The Undetectable Firearms Act, also known as the Terrorist Firearms Detection Act, banned the manufacture, importation, possession, receipt, and transfer of plastic and ceramic guns that are undetectable by magnetometers and X-ray machines in airports and other public places. The act specified that a firearm must contain a minimum of 3.7 ounces of metal to make it detectable.
When Congress began consideration of a ban on plastic weapons, the National Rifle Association (NRA) expressed its opposition. In Senate hearings, an NRA representative labeled proposed legislation a "Trojan horse" intended to compromise the gun ownership rights of law-abiding citizens. The organization claimed that simply because terrorists might employ a product does not justify denying its use to the general public. Gun supporters claimed that the new weapons, which were not yet in production, had definite advantages over existing firearms. They would be lighter and more easily used, and would not rust. However, supporters of a ban defined the issue not as one of gun control, but of safety, for the guns were considered a major threat to the security of citizens if they could not be detected by standard equipment.
In February 1988, Vice President George Bush brought the issue into the national headlines. Participating in a debate among candidates for the Republican nomination for president sponsored by Gun Owners of New Hampshire, Bush showed the audience a small .22-caliber plastic pistol lent to him by the Treasury Department. While reiterating his support for the right of citizens to bear arms, he stated that Congress must deal with new firearms that are virtually undetectable by existing devices. The audience showed its approval and the other candidates quickly agreed with Bush, indicating widespread support for legislation banning plastic guns.
However, Senator James A. McClure, Republican of Idaho, one of the original authors of the Firearms Owners Protection Act, had introduced a weakened measure as an alternative to the one sponsored by Senators Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina, and Howard Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio. McClure's proposal, supported by the NRA, would ban guns made entirely of plastic, but would allow the production of firearms with minimum amounts of metal. The NRA expressed its concern that the Thurmond-Metzenbaum legislation would lead to a ban on some existing weapons. Police organizations objected to the McClure proposal, claiming that the standard would allow the production of guns that could not be detected by existing devices.
Representatives of 12 police organizations met with Republican President Ronald Reagan's Attorney General, Edwin Meese, who had indicated his support for the alternative measure. Although the Justice Depart