The U.S. Senate is expected to vote next week on an expanded gun law that would restrict the 3-D printing of firearms.
The move comes after the House of Representatives on Dec. 3 agreed to extend for another 10 years legislation banning guns that can't be seen by metal detectors or X-ray machines.
The existing bill, known as the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, is set to expire Dec. 10 and doesn't take into account the increasingly popularity of 3-D printing technology, which allows hobbyists and businesses to build guns using metal or plastic components.
Gun control advocates say new language is necessary because the latest printing technology makes most detection systems obsolete, while gun rights proponents argue the opposite because the 3-D printers are expensive and not widely used.
Solid Concepts Inc., a custom manufacturing company based in Valencia, Calif., last month said it built the first-ever metal gun using a 3-D printer at its Texas facility.
While the U.S. military has already begun experimenting with 3-D printing, which is technically known as additive manufacturing, the technology isn't limited to firearms.
General Electric Co. earlier this year announced it planned to make cobalt-chromium fuel nozzles for a certain type of engine using 3-D printing. The Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate even brought a demonstration model of a 3-D printer to last summer's Paris Air Show to give attendees a firsthand look at how easily it operates -- and to hand out small souvenir metallic prints.
The Senate, set to reconvene on Dec. 9, may push to adopt tougher language that would require plastic guns to be made with non-removable metal parts so they can be better detected. But if there aren't enough votes to support the provision, the chamber will probably approve the existing law and revisit the issue next year.