The 1986 Plastic Gun Panic

How the gun control lobbies nearly tricked Congress into banning millions of ordinary guns.


Have you heard about the "undetectable plastic gun"? The gun control lobbies call it is "tailor-made for terrorism." The Washington Post reports that a state sponsor of terrorism is already attempting to obtain these guns. A Post columnist warns that the police "vehemently oppose the introduction of plastic guns into our armed society." Newsweek predicts the NRA will face a member revolt for opposing legislation to ban plastic guns: "This time the gun lobby may have shot itself in the foot."

The above is not today's news. It's the news from 1985 to 1988, the years of the first plastic gun panic. The supposed "plastic gun" was the Glock pistol, which contains more than a pound of metal, and is easily identified by metal detectors.

Today, millions of Americans own Glock pistols, and they are widely recognized as among the most common and ordinary of handguns. But back in 1985, the Glock was brand new, and the gun control lobbies found a brand new opportunity to terrify the American public. Many politicians and much of the press were eager to embrace the panic. Congress came close to enacting a wide-ranging gun ban.

This article tells the story of the first plastic gun panic.

The origins of the first plastic gun

In 1963, Gaston Glock, an Austrian engineer, created the Glock company. The Glock factory was near Vienna, in Deutsch-Wagram. It manufactured plastic and steel products, including curtain rings. After developing expertise in products combining plastic with steel, Glock became an Austrian army supplier field knives, machine gun belts, practice hand grenades, plastic clips, and entrenching tools.

In the early 1980s, the Austrian army asked a wide variety of manufacturers to submit bids to manufacture a new duty pistol. Although Glock had never made firearms before, it was invited to bid. Glock won the contract for what became the Glock 17 pistol. The Glock was the first handgun to use extensively plastic polymers. (Plastics in guns had debuted in 1959 Remington Nylon 66.)

Most parts of the Glock 17 were still made of metal: the slide, the barrel, the trigger assembly, the magazines, and so on. But the frame was made of plastic polymers. The frame is the biggest part of the gun; it is the structure to which all the other parts are attached. The Glock's plastic frame weighed only 14% as much as a steel frame, yet was stronger.

The stronger frame helped the gun absorb recoil better, thus improving accuracy and comfort for the user. The much lighter frame also made the Glock more comfortable to carry or wear for extended periods.

Even without the plastic, the Glock would have been a major innovation. Nobody had ever made a modern full-sized pistol with so few parts. The Glock was easy to disassemble and reassemble for cleaning. Compared to other pistols of the time, it was less likely to jam or misfire because of lack of cleaning. The gun was also extremely sturdy, and resistant to cracking or other damage even after firing thousands of rounds of ammunition.

After being adopted by the military and law enforcement in Austria, the Glock 17 began to find a world-wide market. Norway was the first NATO country to adopt it. In 1985, Glock opened an office in Smyrna, Georgia, the first of what would be Glock offices around the world.

As explained in Paul M. Barrett's book Glock: The Rise of America's Gun, the company aimed its initial promotions at the law enforcement market. The light weight and other improvements made the gun naturally attractive to officers and deputies. And Glock offered very generous terms to adopting agencies, including buying the agencies' former service handguns.

As law enforcement agencies adopted the Glock, other citizens could see that the new-fangled "plastic" guns were reliable and effective for lawful defense of self and others. Lawful defense is the only reason that law enforcement officers carry firearms. American citizens have always looked to law enforcement officers for good examples of appropriate arms for keeping the peace. That was true for the 1873 Colt "peacemaker" revolver and over a century later for the Glocks.

In 1986 the Washington Post sounds the alarm about plastic guns

"Qaddafi Buying Austrian Plastic Pistol." That was the headline from columnists Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta in Washington Post on January 15, 1986. According to the article, "The Libyans are said to be trying covert methods to obtain these weapons."

Today, Glocks are ubiquitous, one of the most common pistols, with many models. But in January 1986, they were little known in America, where only a few thousnd had been sold.

Swiftly, the gun control lobbies began warning Americans about the "plastic pistol." They dubbed them "terrorist specials" or the "Hijackers Special." Supposedly, this plastic gun was designed to sneak through metal detectors.

Government experts explain that the Glock—and all other handguns, are readily detectable

Phillip McGuire testified to Congress on behalf of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. McGuire was not exactly an opponent of gun control. He would later would take a job with the leading gun control group of the day, Handgun Control, Inc. McGuire testified before Congress:

There is still no evidence that we hold that a firearm intrinsically capable of passing undetected through conventional x-ray and metal detector systems exists or is feasible under any current technology immediately available to us.

Testimony of Phillip C. McGuire, Associate Director, Office of Law Enforcement, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, July 28, 1987.

At that same hearing, Raymond A. Salazar, Director of Civil Aviation Security for the Federal Aviation Administration testified: "We are aware of no current 'non-metal' firearm which is not reasonably detectable by present technology and methods in use at our airports today."

FAA Director for Civil Aviation Security Billie Vincent told Congress: "despite a relatively common impression to the contrary, there is no current non-metal firearm which is not reasonably detectably by present technology and methods in use in our airports today, nor to my knowledge is anyone on the threshold of developing such a firearm."

Congress was shown photos of Glocks under a metal detector, reveal that the Glock's easily visible profile. Even when the Glocks were disassembled, the photos showed the parts to be easily detected.

Sen. Metzenbaum's gun ban gains momentum

In the late 1980s, the Senate's leading gun control advocate was Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). In the November 1986 elections, Democrats won control of the U.S. Senate, and Joe Biden (D-Del.) would be the new Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The party change much improved the prospects for gun control bills getting a committee hearing and a floor vote.

In February 1987 Sen. Metzenbaum introduced legislation to outlaw all guns that contained less than 8.5 ounces of steel, because such guns could supposedly pass through metal detectors easily. (The original bill can be found in the Feb. 4, 1987, Congressional Record, at page S1792. The Library of Congress' Thomas website does not have full texts of bills from this period.) The original Metzenbaum bill would have allowed grandfathered owners to retain possession, but not to sell or transfer them. So upon the demise of a grandfathered owner, the heirs would immediately become illegal possessors of contraband.

The Metzenbaum bill did not ban the Glock, which contains 19 ounces of steel. The Glock was winning adoptions by law enforcement at a rapidly increasing rate. It was no longer plausible to claim that these law enforcement handguns were "terrorist specials."

Instead, the Metzenbaum bill banned many small handguns. Again, the BATF had testified that these too were readily detectable. According to the NRA (American Rifleman, Jan. 1988), the Metzenbaum bill covered many derringers (up to .38 caliber) as well as .22 or .25 caliber handguns from companies including Beretta, Colt, North American Arms, Raven Arms, Rossi, Smith & Wesson, Stevens, and Walther.

The bill's use of "steel" rather than "metal" for the minimum weight made a big difference. Many guns use zinc or aluminum in alloys. The thirteen ounce .25 caliber Raven pistol was made with zinc alloy, and had only 3.2 ounces of pure steel. Similarly, the Beretta 950 weighed over nine ounces, but the frame was aluminimum alloy, so the gun's steel weight was less than 8 1/2 ounces. Small handguns had long been a target of the gun control lobbies. The lobbies had been unable to prohibit such guns nationally by calling them "Saturday Night Specials." Now, small handguns were again set for prohibition–supposedly because they had something to do with the fuss about "plastic guns."

Other handguns, including historic models, had frames made from iron, brass, bronze, rather from steel. They too were set for prohibition.

In early December 1987, Metzenbaum tried to attach his legislation to a bill to increase aid to veterans. He narrowly fell short, 44 to 47 (counting two Senators not present, but who said they would have voted for the bill).

Senators Howard Metzenbaum found a powerful cosponsor for his gun ban: South Carolina Republican Strom Thurmond. Thurmond was the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He had first come to national attention in 1948 when he bolted the Democratic Party to run for President as a "Dixiecrat." Thurmond and his supporters objected to the civil rights plank in the party platform, which had been spearheaded by Minneapolis Mayor (and future Vice-President) Hubert Humphrey.

Thurmond had a long career as governor and senator from South Carolina. In 1964, he became a Republican. He was the opposite of a civil libertarian, and a frequent sponsor of legislation that opponents said would infringe much of the Bill of Rights. (See, e.g.,

Being from South Carolina, Thurmond sometimes voted "pro-gun." Yet later, in the first Bush administration (1989-92), Thurmond took the lead in supporting administration gun control proposals, even when most other Republican Senators refused to go along. For example, one Bush-Thurmond theme was legislation to simultaneously abolish the Exclusionary Rule and enact more gun control.

Over in the House of Representatives, leading gun control advocate Mario Biaggi (D-Bronx, later imprisoned for felony corruption) had an even more ambitious "plastic gun" proposal. He favored prohibiting any firearm "substantially constructed of plastic or other nonmetal material." This would cover all long guns, since their stocks are made of wood or plastic, not metal. The ATF's McGuire testified that the Biaggi "definition covers almost every existing rifle and shotgun in commerce and almost any handgun using rubber, wood or plastic oversized grips."

Although the Biaggi idea did not advance, Metzenbaum was making progress. Even the Reagan Department of Justice was poised to endorse a "plastic" gun ban. Only the intervention of Vice President Bush (who was running for President, and seeking gun-owner support) stopped the DOJ. The "plastic gun" panic from 1986 had been cultivated so well by gun control advocates that they could still use the momentum to ban something that could be called "undetectable."

Congress passes the Undetectable Firearms Act

Given the apparent imperative to "do something," pro-rights legislators had introduced alternative legislation. House Majority Leader Thomas Foley (D-Spokane) introduced H.R. 4014, the Firearms Detection Act of 1988. It garnered 95 cosponsors, most notably Rep. John Dingell (D-Ann Arbor), who was a member of the NRA Board of Directors. In the Senate, similar legislation came from Sen. James McClure (R-Idaho), who had been the lead Senate sponsor for the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986, a major reform of federal gun control laws.

What resulted was a compromise, the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, H.R. 4445. Its sponsor was William Hughes (D-N.J.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Crime, and a leading gun control advocate. Hughes was willing to negotiate, and produced a bill that won unanimous support from the House Judiciary Committee and NRA endorsement. The minimum steel weight was reduced to 3.7 ounces, which must be in the general shape of a handgun. Language that arguably would have given the Secretary of the Treasury gun-banning discretion was removed. Industry research on prototypes was protected. As enacted, the bill banned no firearm that had ever been made, including the Glock. The Act is codified at 18 U.S. Code section 922(p).

Defense Distributed and the UFA

The Texas company Defense Distributed company has produced files for the production of a singles-shot plastic handgun, which it calls the "Liberator" pistol. It is named for a single-shot Liberator handgun distributed by the United Staates to anti-Nazi resistance forces in Europe during World War II. The gun can be manufactured in a home workship with a 3D printer. Complaint with the UFA, the Liberator includes the legally-required amount of metal, with a handgun profile. In prior litigation with Defense Distributed, the U.S. State Department expressly acknowledged that the Liberator complies with the UFA.

Most of the Defense Distributed files are instructions for how to make conventional metal firearms at home with a milling machine. These are files cut blank pieces of metal to manufacture the Colt 1911 (pistol, named for the year of its introduction), the Ruger 10-22 (.22 caliber rifle, introduced 1964), the AR-15 (introduced 1965), AR-10 (1956), vz 58 (Czech rifle, 1958), and Beretta 92FS (pistol, 1976). Home manufacture of firearms has always been legal in the United States, and has been going on since the early 1600s.

However, the Defense Distributed files do include SLDPRT and SLDASM files for AR-15 parts, including the lower receiver. These files are used in creating instructions for 3D printing. You can inspect the files for yourself at That website is run by a coalition of California Second Amendment groups. The temporary restraining order issued by the federal district court from the Western District of Washington simply prevents the U.S. State Department from issuing Defense Distributed a license to export said files. The U.S. government has never claimed that it has any legal authority to block distribution of the files within the U.S. to U.S. citizens. Even if the Defense Distributed website were to permanently close tomorrow, the files have been downloaded and shared hundreds of thousands of times since they were first posted in 2013.

Consequences of the 1986-88 plastic gun debate and its aftermath

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, a strong anti-gun advocate, had remarked that the "plastic gun" issue was an opportunity "to get the debate on handgun control back on the right track." Indeed, the gun control lobbies in 1988 got to tell their members, correctly, that the lobbies had actually pushed a bill into law. The Act was the first time that Congress had actually voted to ban a type of gun—albeit a type that did not exist and had never existed.

The 1988 Act helped set the stage for the 1994 Congressional ban on "assault weapons." Conceptually, the 1988 and 1994 bills were very different. Yet the gun control lobbies were prescient that voting to ban things that don't exist can be a gateway to banning things that do.

For example Nebraska Democratic Senator James Exon had a generally pro-Second Amendment voting record. Yet in November 1993, he explained on the Senate floor why he was supporting Senator Feinstein's "assault weapons" ban:

Those who have been here long enough will probably remember that as the plastic gun problem. Plastic guns were becoming very common. They were guns that could be smuggled very easily through any surveillance system at an airport, for example, or any public facility where we have certain regulations and equipment in place to detect weapons.

I crossed the NRA on that particular proposition, and we were able to solve that finally by not outlawing plastic weapons but requiring, by law, that the weapons no longer be invisible to screening devices in public places because they had to have something that would show up on the screen that does the screening when we go through, for example, airport security.

Congressional Record, vol. 139, No. 156–part II, Nov. 9, 1993.

The leading promoter of the 1986 plastic gun panic was Handgun Control, Inc. In 2001, the group changed its name to the "Brady Campaign," belatedly realizing that many Americans were skeptical about being controlled. So instead of saying "gun control," the group now says "gun safety." An officer of the anti-gun "Million Mom March," which was later absorbed by the Brady group, explained: "Changing the name from Handgun Control to the Brady Campaign will have a positive effect, especially since this organization is a key player in the fight against the powerful gun lobby. The word 'control' suggested that gun safety advocates wanted control over gun rights activists by infringing on their Second Amendment right to bear arms. This couldn't be farther from the truth." Karie Stakem, Letter to the Editor, "Gun 'Control' Isn't Our Aim—Just Gun Safety," Virginian-Pilot & Ledger Star, June 29, 2001, at B10, available at 2001 WLNR 2096578.

The name may have changed, but the principles remain the same. In a 2016 amicus brief supporting the U.S. State Department's prior restraint against the Defense Distributed company posting gun manufacturing files on the Internet, the Brady brief pointed out: "The UFA was passed in part in response to reports that then Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was in the process of buying more than 100 plastic handguns that would be difficult for airport security to detect. Jack Anderson, Dale Van Atta, Qaddafi Buying Austrian Plastic Pistols, The Washington Post, Jan 15, 1986." Brady Center amicus brief, Defense Distributed v. United States Department of State, 2016 WL 704978 (5th Cir. 2016).

The words in the Brady brief was literally true—although a more candid amicus might have informed the court that so-called "plastic handguns" of 1986 were actually not "difficult for airport security to detect." A candid amicus might have also explained that the "plastic handguns" were Glock pistols, which are now recognized as common, constitutionally-protected handguns.

The 1988 law ended efforts to ban the use of plastic polymers in firearms. The only place where Glocks were prohibited was New York City. There, the police refused to issue handgun permits for Glock pistols. A police spokesman "said that the police banned the pistol because it was partly plastic and difficult to detect electronically."

But former NYPD officer Stephen D'Andrilli was running a business that helped guide New Yorkers through the City's arduous gun licensing process. When the Department rejected a client's application to purchase a Glock, D'Andrilli fired a freedom of information request, and discovered that Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward was licensed to carry a Glock 17. The Department claimed that Commissioner Ward's Glock carrying was "part of a controlled test." (N.Y. Times, Sept. 28, 1988.)

The day after Ward's Glock was revealed, the Department rescinded the ban on Glocks. The Department announced that it had concluded that the Glock can "in fact can be detected with today's present technology in the security field." According to the Department, the Glock ban would have been lifted in the next week; the revelation about Ward's Glock had only affected the timing of when the decision would have been made. (N.Y. Times, Sept. 29, 1988.)

D'Andrilli, now retired, runs a website that provides research and advocacy on firearms policy issues, and offers New Yorkers guidance on how to comply with the state's confusing gun control laws.

Post-1988, the Glocks continued to catch on with police commissioners and everyone else. By 1999, Glock had sold two million American pistols, in a wide variety of calibers and sizes.

Today, any gun store will have modern handguns and long guns from many manufacturers that use plastic polymers. Plastics are a very ordinary thing for modern firearms. They make guns better for all lawful purposes, including self-defense. Guns in the right hands save lives. Better guns for lawful defense save more lives. Yet in the late 1980s, gun control groups started a technophobic panic over life-saving improvements in gun safety and then tried to ban many firearms by inaccurately claiming that they were undetectable.

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  1. >”Hughes was will to negotiate, and produced a bill that won unanimous support from the House Judiciary Committee and NRA endorsement.”

    Thanks for admitting the NRA compromised.

    1. Back in the middle 80’s (after the Neal Knox episode) the NRA was all about compromise. Remember Reagan signed the only outright Federal gun ban.

  2. >”The supposed “plastic gun” was the Glock pistol, which contains more than a pound of metal, and is easily identified by metal detectors.”

    You’re counting the slide, barrel, etc. The frame, which is the registered portion, does not. No one said that criminals had to keep an assembled firearm together as they went through airport security.

    1. So you’re saying that you can defeat TSA just by disassembling your firearm? Go for it. Feel free to use one of the original design Glocks which predates the UFA requirement. Let us know how the test turns out.

      Yes, TSA is incompetent. But even they are not that stupid.

      1. >”So you’re saying that you can defeat TSA just by disassembling your firearm? Go for it. Feel free to use one of the original design Glocks which predates the UFA requirement. Let us know how the test turns out.”

        Apparently, you didn’t notice that what I wrote was in the past tense. A Glock Gen1 frame with minimal metal could pass a 1980s inspection.

        1. But what good does the frame do without the rest of it?

        2. According to all the testimony already quoted in the article above, a Glock Gen1 couldn’t even pass the 1980s version of airport security. Do you really think that even pre-TSA airport security was ignorant of the possibility of disassembling a weapon? Do you not remember getting challenged for things that looked “suspicious” in your baggage that had nothing to do with weapons?

          As a personal example, my bags were regularly re-searched because I had a collapsing camera tripod. When collapsed, the legs plausibly looked like they might be a barrel. No other components and nothing “gun-like” in the bag at all. Yet airport security detected it easily in the 1980s.

        3. Aside from the other humiliations you’ve suffered in this thread: bullets.

        4. So you’re saying that if you remove all the metal pieces that actually render the firearm functional, you’d be able to smuggle an inert piece of polymer through airport security?

          Big if true!

    2. What? The steel barrel would set off any metal detector. How would he explain carrying a pistol barrel?

      And the slide, even if carried by somebody else, would also set off the detector.

      1. As would the ammo itself.

      2. He could put the barrel and slide with other metal items in order to conceal them.

        1. The “other metal items” set off the metal detector and then what? They refuse to let you through until they find the source of what is setting it off and ensure that it isn’t a weapon…

          You’re cunning plan fails.

          1. According to the Washington Post article that Kopel points to, your claim regarding airport security at the time would seem to be correct. Kopel writes:

            “”Qaddafi Buying Austrian Plastic Pistol.” That was the headline from columnists Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta in Washington Post on January 15, 1986. According to the article, “The Libyans are said to be trying covert methods to obtain these weapons.””

            I typed “Qaddafi Buying Austrian Plastic Pistol” into Google and and the first result was a copy of the original Post article. Paragraphs 5-6 state: “In fact, one Pentagon security expert decided to demonstrate just how easy it would be to sneak a Glock 17 aboard an airliner. He stripped the gun down and disguised the metal parts in his carry-on luggage. For example, he wrapped the spring around a pair of eyeglasses. The Pentagon man tested his system twice at Washington National Airport, and got past the security checks both times.”

            I don’t find it surprising that this would lead to concern among voters, and thus subsequent federal action.

            1. The problem with this is that airport security fails to find 95% of weapons according to controlled tests.

              So a glock is just as invisible to TSA as a sawed off shotgun.

              1. This. Airport security is flawed at best, and virtually nonexistent in many airports throughout the world. Last time I visited Montenegro, the security officer was playing on his smartphone while the luggage moved through the scanner.

                1. The term is “security theater” as per one of the worlds experts on security, Bruce Schneier. He has a great blog I don’t visit often enough:

                2. “Airport security is flawed at best, and virtually nonexistent in many airports throughout the world.”

                  Because no one wants to incur the cost in time, money, or passenger irritation of using the effective Israeli protocol.

                  1. Having flown into and out of Israel many times I can attest to the effectiveness of their security. And having experienced it, I also know that it would be virtually impossible to scale it up to the level that American security would need. There is a vast difference in the size of their daily air travel and ours.

    3. Who cares which is the “registered” portion? If you think TSA is only going to be concerned with the lower receiver, why don’t you try bringing an AR complete upper through? You can scream at them that it’s not a legal firearm.

      1. My comment was written in the past tense, i.e. a Glock Gen1 with 1980s investigative techniques and 1980s technology.

    4. My son and a friend who is a security guard both own GLOCKs.
      The serial number is on a metal plate embedded in the polymer frame.
      The serial number plate cannot be removed without serious damage to the frame.

      Since the “plastic hijacker special satanic ritual abuser” madness, makers include barium in the polymer mix so the frame shows up in the outline of a gun handle. More distinctively than a half-eaten poptart.

    5. What? How would disassembling the firearm help? The metal components would still be detected.

  3. So they ban these so-called undetectable guns. What good will that do? Just look at Chicago this last week end. Fifty-sixty shootings and eleven dead as last count that I have read. Now I am sure that not all the weapons used in these shootings were not LEGALLY owned. In other words they were ILLEGAL, banned from these people to own. Did that stop these guns from being used in these crimes and these were regular guns that could be detected. Besides there are others that will make the plans to make 3D printed weapons even if these are not released. Any good programmer along with a engineer could make a file to print any thing that is so far been made. They could also come up with new plans that that has not been made yet. So the proverbial cat is out bag, so no need to close the barn door after the horses are all gone.

  4. . . . Guns in the right hands save lives. Better guns for lawful defense save more lives. Yet technophobic panic in the late 1980s nearly thwarted life-saving improvements in gun safety. . . .

    This whole situation is only about emotions to prove these states who are suing to prevent these printer files from getting out to make their citizens safer which it will not.

  5. How do you expect to stop Magneto without plastic guns?! The Leftist libtards want to leave us vulnerable to being conqured by mutants. Why do they hate America?!

    More Guns…More hands…More guns in hands!!!!

    1. In the past twenty years or so, the number of guns in private hands has doubled, yet the number of murders per year has been cut in half.

  6. 3D gun mania is just more grist for do-nothing politicians to put out to their constituencies to keep them believing they have something to contribute, when they actually are clueless as to how to improve the lot of their citizens.

    One bent on mayhem can readily go to the web for info on how to construct an IED or put together some sarin or ricin for use in airports or other sensitive areas. To think that a terrorist would instead elect to use a single shot plastic zip gun is ludicrous.

    1. I have a vise. I have files. I have an electric drill. Following the 1961-1965 Civil War Centennial, I built muzzle loading pistols. In an afternoon, I could make a crtridge firing derringer smaller than, longernlasting tha, that 3D printed plastic monstrosity. In scrap iron is easy to over-engineer barrel and breech for small pistol cartridges. Federally since I have passed NICS BG checks multiple times, ATF says it’s legal for me to make a gun for my personal use. This controversy is just a lot over nothing.

      We had local option prohibition of alcohol 1953-1968. The local library had books on wine and beer making. OMG!!! How did we survive????

  7. I remember those days. I ran right out and bought one of them Glock 7s. Cost more than you make in a month! John McClane is never wrong!

    1. Not to mention that Bruce Willis recently said that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie, when it clearly is. The season is just not complete until Hans Gruber falls to his death from Nakitomi Tower.

  8. Is Congress actually being “tricked” if they’re in on the scam?

    1. No, position taking for laws that a member of Congress knows are ineffective or will go now where are at the heart of electoral politics. It’s like Congress passing a law to ban flag burning, when they knew that within X number of years the Supreme Court would overturn it.

  9. The NRA asked manufacturers who made plastic framed guns to include enough barium in the plastic mix that the frame would show up in an X-ray in the shape of a gun.

    And the NRA endorsed the ban on undetectable handguns.

    But according to the gun banners, the NRA refused to ban the GLOCK (I believe the trademark is all-caps) when (they claimed) Qhadaffi was buying these guns to hijack our airliners.(I suspect he was buying them for the same reason the Austrian military bought them, high quality, low maintenance, reasonable price.)

    According to the gun banners, the NRA is an extremist organisation that totally refuses to compromise on common sense reasonable regulation.

    According to no-compromise gun rights advocates, the NRA is a sell-out for compromising on gun regulations.

    I would credit the TFA and NRA with moving Tennessee
    _ from Application for Permission to Purchase a Handgun with county sheriff or chief of police sign off with up to fifteen day waiting period for records check
    _ to a phone in instant state and local records check at the gun dealer; and,
    _ from a handgun carry permit at discretion of country sheriff with 95 county standards for issue and useful only within the county
    _ to a handgun carry permit administered by the state, with state standards, shall-issue if you meet the standards, permit recognized state-wide and by many other states.
    I think the anti-NRA no-compromises attitude would have left us with the status quo.

  10. Technology advances, and it never works when congress tries to regulate specific technologies. When incandescent lights were regulated CFL’s were specified as a replacement, now LED’s are current technology. When scanners were regulated to limit monitoring cell phone calls congress specified scanners must block the cell phone frequencies that were used at the time the bill was passed. Cell phones now use different frequencies and are digitally encrypted.

    1. I have read this wonder piece of wisdom on the internet, from someone who saw it somewhere, from someone else, who couldn’t cite the origin of it, so like an urban legend, I pass on:

      “You can’t pass laws to un-invent shit.”

  11. “In 1973-74, it was revealed that the Nixon White House had engaged in numerous police-state tactics, illegally attempting to use the IRS, the FBI, and the CIA against the president’s political opponents.”

    Interesting how history repeats itself yet apparently the response is different.
    From 2013-2018, it was revealed that the Obama White House had engaged in numerous police-state tactics, illegally attempting to use the IRS, the FBI, and the CIA against the president’s political opponents.

    1. Obama was different because shut up!

  12. This article shows why firearms owners are so leary of any new firearms regulations. These bills were actually designed to ban broad classes of existing firearms and freeze firearm development.

    Bans on AR15 style weapons similarly are attempts to freeze firearm development at pre 1950 levels. This has the effect of denying people the enhanced ergonomics and updated safety features of modern weapons.

    1. My quibble is your claim that banning AR-15 type firearms would limit us to pre1950 technology. Definitely to pre 1960 technology, which is 1950s technology. My understanding is that AR-15 technology was developed in the late 1950s, or at the latest, the very early 1960s. You seem to be drawing the line at 1950. I would be more comfortable at 1960. In any case, I think that we can agree banning AR-15s, etc, would limit the American public to technology that was over a half century obsolete.

      1. From Armalite’s posted history:
        “… The concept of using the latest technical advances in plastics and alloys was the idea of George Sullivan, Chief Patent Counsel for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Sullivan had started work in his own garage shop after WWII. This work came to the attention of Fairchild in 1953 …
        “In 1954, Eugene Stoner, who served in the Marines during World War II and who was something of an ordnance expert, became Chief Engineer for ArmaLite. Stoner had been working on small arms independently since WWII. Stoner’s patents form the basis of much of ArmaLite’s work. ….”

        The ideas behind Armalite designs were pre-1950. Implementation was mid 1950s. Actual designs included AR-1 bolt action riflw (1952), AR-10 automatic rifle (1955), a semi-auto shotgun, AR-5 bolt action survival rifle (1956), AR-15 design licensed to Colt (1959).

      2. If you’re being very specific and mean “the AR-15 itself” by “AR-15 technology”, well, you’re correct, but it’s not like semi-auto rifles were invented in the late 1950s

  13. A few issues with the article:

    Glock was by no means “the first firearm to use plastic polymers”, many earlier firearms did (even as the receiver – such as the Remington Nylon 66)

    Glock magazines are primarily polymer. There’s no upper receiver (I imagine you mean the slide).

    and something I’d add: the movie Die Hard (1988) referred to a “Glock 7”:

    “Luggage? That punk pulled a Glock 7 on me. You know what that is? It’s a porcelain gun made in Germany. It doesn’t show up on your airport X-ray machines here and it costs more than what you make in a month!”

    which probably contributed to public fear of undetectable firearms. Of course, all of that is false: there’s no such thing as a Glock 7, Glocks aren’t porcelain, Glocks aren’t made in Germany, Glocks show up on X ray machines, and Glocks aren’t (and weren’t then) particularly expensive pistols.

    1. Funny that bit about Glocks being expensive. They are actually some of the cheapest handguns to make, and were back when they were introduced. However, Glock salesmen charged more than just a fair profit premium, but upcharged them significantly on them because they wanted to avoid the perception that something so cheap must be poorly made.

      1. Glock salesmen charged more than just a fair profit premium, but upcharged them significantly on them because they wanted to avoid the perception that something so cheap must be poorly made.

        Maybe also because they thought more profit was better than less profit?

        1. One could easily imagine a scenario where you could get a ton more profit off of volume. If I make a better product than the competition, and sell it for a bunch less, I’m going to win out in the end. That’s usually how things work in the textbooks, and for things like the Model T, but people aren’t entirely rational.

          No, based on the source material that Kopel cites in that history of the Glock book, because of the stigma that things made of plastic are shoddy, Glock decided to sell them at a price that reflected an inherent value above the parts+labor (even though it didn’t exist). Think of a status product, like a make-up product line by some celebrity, where they upcharge it because if they charged the same as an equally good low end product that one could get at Walgreens, rather than a lux product at Nieman Marcus, people would not associate the make-up with luxury. In the end, both make up lines are made by peasants in China, but one just sells for more and has more status attached to it.

          1. Not sure what you are saying.

            If I make a better product than the competition, and sell it for a bunch less, I’m going to win out in the end.

            Not necessarily. Besides, the object is not to “win out,” but to maximize profit. Depending on market conditions, the competition, consumer preferences, marketing, production costs, and a whole bunch of things a company may easily do better by selling fewer units at a higher price. That’s what monopolies do after all, and while Glock was not a monopoly, to the extent a company can develop brand differentiation it can act a little like one.

            Besides, there is no such thing as a “fair profit premium” or “an inherent value.”

            1. Not sure what you’re sticking point is. Any economist worth his salt can give a dozen or more “on the other hand” scenarios. The primary source material, which the OP cites, the book on the history of the Glock, says they made the decision to price their wares much higher than the cost to produce to avoid the stigma of a primarily plastic gun being thought of as cheap. In an alternate world, where plastic was not synonymous with cheap (note how they use the word polymer) they would not have have had to do so.

              Furthermore, you ignore the idea of capture of market share. The Model T won (at first) because it was reliable, and cheap. The same thing could have happened with Glocks.

              Inherent value = lots of things have an inherent value, sometimes called an intrinsic value, which is that by it’s very nature it is useful.

              fair profit premium = colloquial language. There are, of course, what we call “unfair profits”, one example of which, that we ban by law, is usury.

              In short, you’re being both pedantic, and desultory.

    2. and something I’d add: the movie Die Hard (1988) referred to a “Glock 7”:

      That’s Die Hard 2 (1990).

      1. That’s why I didn’t remember the quote. I’m sure I saw #2 only once.

        Just like all franchises, Die Hard went downhill quickly.

    3. Glock magazines are primarily polymer. There’s no upper receiver (I imagine you mean the slide).

      Glock magazines have a heavy steel spring and, a full steel interior liner and steel feed lips. Glock magazines have so much steel in them that they sell magazine carriers that hold the magazine in position with a magnet.

    4. Thanks for the info on the Remington. I revised accordingly.
      I read at least one technically knowledgeable article that referred to the Glock’s “upper receiver.” But to avoid confusion, I revised the post to say “slide” instead.
      I had forgotten about the “Die Hard” stuff. Your comment reinforces my choice never to watch any of those movies.

  14. Perhaps someone here can comment on, and help provide a source for, a story I read quite some time ago about the Glock panic. In the article, one anti-gun journalist removed the barrel from an unloaded Glock (thus rendering it doubly useless), but in doing so was able to get it past the metal detectors on Capital Hill. The man went to a meeting with Senator Bob Dole, and at the meeting, he pulled the pistol out in an attempt to scare the senator, who promptly called security.

    1. I never heard of that, but there was somewhat similar incident. Rep. Mario Biaggi disassembled a Glock and passed it through security at the U.S. House. This proved less about the Glock than it did about the negligence of security personnel. As was pointed out at the time, there were lots of examples of federal airport testers being able to pass all metal fully-assembled firearms through airport security.

    2. If you disassemble a Glock, even with the slide removed, you will find there are metal springs and other pieces in the frame. While true most of the metal is in the slide, the frame without the slide is worthless so even if this were true, so what? He would have done better to attack Dole with a paperweight or bookend since a polymer handgun frame has no weight of value which is the point.

  15. Why haven’t we banned knives with plastic handles yet? They are also scary and undetectable with the metal removed.

    1. There are all plastic or all fiber glass knives. Not as robust as a steel bladed USMC K-bar but still they exist.

      1. What about ceramic knives?

  16. All of the other Defense Distributed files are instructions for how to make conventional metal firearms at home with a milling machine.

    If you believe the Defense Distributed files are for 3D printing of an AR-15 or any firearm other than a one-shot pistol, you can inspect the files for yourself at

    As I understand it, they have a design for a carbine rifle, not an AR based design that is a hybrid. Major structural pieces are 3D-printed plastic along with most of the parts except the barrel, with a metal barrel. and a very small number of other metal parts that are easily obtained.

    1. Sure looks like an AR-15 design in the file names. Haven’t downloaded it yet, but since I have plenty of spare disk space, and live in this country, I expect to do so shortly.

      1. it is for a lower only. Not a complete rifle.

    2. Sorry that is not correct. The entire upper has to be metal or you will be killed. The pressures and heat generated by firing a rifle is about 4x that of a handgun. A Bolt carrier group made of plastic would melt or shatter instantly. There are polymer hand guards for rifles, but they are used only to keep you from touching the hot barrel. Anyone who has shot a rifle will tell you after two or three shots, if you touch the barrel you will regret it. The laws of physics cannot be changed. By the way, a carbine is simply a rifle with a shorter barrel (usually 14-16 inches).

  17. If you have no personal knowledge on a subject being debated, but you know one side keeps lying, it is not difficult to make the decision which side to support.

  18. You can make the lower receiver of an AR entirely from plastic, and that is the part considered a firearm.

    It’s also a paper weight without a lot of metal parts added to it.

    1. Sure, and how many rounds can you fire using a completely plastic AR-15 lower without the plastic essentially falling apart from the recoil. I should rephrase that – how many rounds can you fire utilizing a 3D printed plastic lower receiver? My memory is maybe a dozen or so.

      1. At least 600 rounds according to TechCrunch…

        Biggs, John (March 1, 2013). “Defense Distributed Prints An AR-15 Receiver That Has Fired More Than 600 Rounds”. TechCrunch.

        1. How long it lasts depends on the type of plastic used and the type of ammo. ABS will not last under the recoil of a rifle. Polymers used for lowers are not ABS, but special blends usually incorporating carbon fiber for strength. BTW, the lower receiver does not fire anything. The lower contains the trigger assembly, magazine housing, buffer, buffer tube and buffer spring and stock. The “firing” portion of the rifle is the upper.

  19. “The stronger frame helped the gun absorb recoil better, thus improving accuracy and comfort for the user.”

    I’m gonna guess the writer of this article is not especially familiar with firearms, or physics for that matter.

    The two things about a gun that will *decrease* recoil are 1) More mass (Force = mass x acceleration) and 2) Mechanical deformation – ideally elastic – that absorbs energy and releases it with some delay (e.g. spring loaded recoil buffer).

    A more rigid and lighter gun is going to have more perceived recoil, not less.

  20. I enjoy your writing. And I have one point of confusion from this article however:

    You say, “If you believe the Defense Distributed files are for 3D printing of an AR-15 or any firearm other than a one-shot pistol, you can inspect the files for yourself….”

    However, Wikipedia ( / wiki / List_of_3D_printed_weapons_and_parts) clearly lists plans for an AR-15 semi automatic rifle lower receiver from Defense Distributed that is printed entirely of plastic.

    How do you explain your statement that Defense Distributed did not provide files for a 3D printed AR-15 given this information?

    1. An AR lower receiver can be made of polymer. I have a couple of them. Even if they were/are undetectable a working AR requires, among other things, a bolt, an upper receiver, and a barrel. The bolt and barrel are steel and the upper receiver is aluminum. If any of those parts were made of plastic I’d be afraid to shoot it. There is a great likelihood of it blowing up in your face.

    2. You are correct. I reviewed the files in question and revised accordingly.

    3. Do you understand what a lower receiver is? The lower is only half the gun. You can buy a polymer lower online. However, without the upper, the lower is worthless and the upper is metal. Providing files to 3D print a lower for an AR15 is not making a complete rifle.

  21. So, what do you think the Left gains by disarming law-abiding Americans? All of their hysterical arguments have been proven false over the years, yet they keep on trying. It’s a puzzlement to me.

  22. The hysteria over the Glock in the 1980s began because the Glock 17 was the first handgun to ever use a polymer frame. Prior to this gun, all handgun frames were metal. Now, many guns are made with polymer frames because they are lighter and more comfortable to carry for extended periods. Police departments adopted the Glock because testing had shown it could be fired over 10,000 times without cleaning and not jam. Today, you still hear the anti-gun crowd claim you can take any polymer gun through a metal detector. The so called plastic gun ban was nothing more than Congress passing a law that had no purpose to appease the hysterical and appear they were doing something.

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