WASHINGTON — Plastic handguns that are difficult to detect and ideal for use by terrorists "may be available on the commercial market quite soon," Congress' Office of Technology Assessment reported Tuesday as the House prepared to vote today on a proposed ban of such weapons.
The research office said that the technology exists for developing reinforced-plastic firearms that could be smuggled through the metal detectors and X-ray machines now used at airports and building entrances.
Better Detection Devices
However, the office noted in a report to congressmen sponsoring the ban, research is under way "to improve these detection systems and enhance their capability to detect non-metallic weapons and explosives. One specific X-ray device shows promise for detection of plastic guns."
An amendment to ban the manufacture and importation of plastic guns will be offered by Rep. Robert J. Mrazek (D-N.Y.) when controversial legislation that would ease gun controls comes before the House.
"I'm not naive enough to believe we are going to hold off this plastic technology for any significant amount of time," Mrazek said, "but, hopefully, we can buy enough time to bring airport detection systems to an equivalent level."
The congressional report said that a Florida manufacturer, in developing a lightweight, rust-proof plastic cannon for warplanes and ships, is also devising a plastic .22-caliber pistol to "prove the system" works.
The manufacturer, David Byron, president of Byron Inc. of Casselberry, Fla., "indicated he is about one to two years away from production" of the pistol, according to the report, which was requested by Reps. Mrazek, Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
In a telephone interview, Byron said: "If we don't do it (market the gun), someone else will." It was learned that Byron has said he will produce the gun only if a detection device can be developed--a project his own firm is working on.
Mrazek said that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the adoption of his amendment, which is supported by law enforcement groups and opposed by the politically powerful National Rifle Assn.
The congressional report noted that common plastics such as polyester or nylon cannot withstand the tremendous heat and explosive pressure that results when a gun is fired.
However, the report said, the problem could be solved by reinforcing the plastic with glass or carbon fibers. Or, the report added, a more exotic (and expensive) polymer material with self-reinforcing properties could be used.