WASHINGTON — Narrowly beating a midnight deadline, Congress voted Monday to renew an expiring ban on plastic firearms that can evade airport detection machines. But Republicans blocked an effort to toughen the restrictions — the latest defeat for gun-control forces in the year since the grade school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
By voice vote, the Senate gave final congressional approval to a 10-year extension of the prohibition against guns that can slip past metal detectors and X-ray machines. The House voted last week for an identical decade-long renewal of the ban, and the measure now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Obama, traveling to Africa for ceremonies honoring the late South African president Nelson Mandela, was expected to sign the bill before midnight using an auto pen, a White House official said. The device has been used for the signatures of traveling presidents since the administration of president George W. Bush.
GOP senators rejected an effort by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain undetachable metal parts. Some plastic guns meet the letter of the current law with a metal piece that can be removed, making them a threat to be slipped past security screeners at schools, airports and elsewhere.
“Who in God’s name wants to let plastic guns pass through metal detectors at airports or stadiums?” Schumer said in an interview Monday.
The National Rifle Association, which has been instrumental in blocking gun restrictions, expressed no opposition to renewing the law. But the gun lobby said it would fight any expanded requirements, including Schumer’s, “that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights” to bear arms.
Underscoring the issue’s political sensitivity, both of Monday’s votes were by voice only, meaning no individual senators’ votes were recorded. For a handful of Democratic senators seeking re-election next year in GOP-leaning states, the day’s votes could have been difficult.
The rejection of stricter curbs highlighted the repeated setbacks for gun-control advocates in Congress since last Dec. 14. On that day, a gunman fatally shot 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School before killing himself.
Despite that — and other recent mass shootings, including at the Washington Navy Yard just blocks from the Capitol — supporters of expanded gun control are nearing the end of a year in which they have been unable to push any new firearms restrictions through Congress.
“We’re several decades behind the NRA,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “This is a long game, and it’s going to take us some time to build up the resources necessary to compete.”
Congressional Republicans have resisted tightening the restrictions against undetectable guns, but those lawmakers — as well as the NRA — have not opposed renewing the current prohibition. The House approved a 10-year extension last week.