Undetectable Firearms Act

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Undetectable Firearms Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titles Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988
Long title An Act to amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit certain firearms especially useful to terrorists.
Acronyms (colloquial) UFA, TFDA
Nicknames Terrorist Firearms Detection Act of 1988
Enacted by the 100th United States Congress
Effective December 9, 1988
Public law 100-649
Statutes at Large 102 Stat. 3816
Titles amended
U.S.C. sections amended
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 4445 by William J. Hughes (D-NJ) on April 21, 1988
  • Committee consideration by House Judiciary, Senate Judiciary
  • Passed the House on May 10, 1988 (413-4)
  • Passed the Senate on May 25, 1988 (Passed voice vote, in lieu of S. 2180) with amendment
  • House agreed to Senate amendment on October 20, 1988 (Agreed unanimous consent) with further amendment
  • Senate agreed to House amendment on October 21, 1988 (Agreed voice vote)
  • Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 10, 1988

The United States Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 (18 U.S.C. § 922(p)) makes it illegal to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive any firearm that is not as detectable by walk-through metal detection as a security exemplar containing 3.7 oz (105 g) of steel, or any firearm with major components that do not generate an accurate image before standard airport imaging technology.[1]

It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 10, 1988.[2]


The general effect of this legislation is a ban on the manufacture, possession and transfer of firearms with less than 3.7 oz (105 g) of metal content. The bill also requires handguns to be in the traditional shape of a handgun. The Act excepts from its prohibitions the federal government and its agencies, and may offer a safe harbor for licensed manufactures testing to determine if their firearms meet the Act's criteria.


What became the Undetectable Firearms Act began as an attempt to ban handguns like the Glock 17 in the mid-1980s.[3] Pistols like the Glock had frames and grips made from lightweight polymer, and their novelty prompted public criticism that their relative lack of metal content meant they might be able to slip past airport metal detection and be suitable for use by terrorists.[3][4][5]

Initial proposals to ban handguns with less than 8 oz of steel were opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and what resulted was a compromise that banned guns with less than half the metal content of the Glock.[6][7] The NRA agreed not to oppose the Act because it did not affect any existing guns. Introduced by William J. Hughes (D-NJ), it passed overwhelmingly in October 1988.[7]

The gun control lobby was eager to promote it as one of the first successes of groups like Handgun Control, Inc (later the Brady Campaign).[7] The Act set the stage for the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban.[7]


The original Act had a ten-year sunset clause, and would have expired on November 10, 1998. Congress subsequently renewed it in 1998 for five years,[8][9] in 2003 for ten years,[10][11] and in 2013 for another ten years.[12][13]

Proposals to extend the scope of the law at the 2013 renewal were unsuccessful. At that time, the NRA continued to support the law but opposed any extension of its scope.[14]

Application to 3D printing[edit]

With the advent of projects like the Wiki Weapon, 3D printing technologies have been noted for their abilities to help create largely polymer and ceramic firearms.[15][16] Various groups of makers and tech enthusiasts have experimented with the technology in this capacity as well, leading to widespread speculation that traditional methods of gun control will become increasingly inoperable.[17]

Proposed renewals and expansions of the current Undetectable Firearms Act (H.R. 1474, S. 1149) include provisions to criminalize individual production of firearm receivers and magazines that do not include arbitrary amounts of metal, measures outside the scope of the original UFA and not extended to cover commercial manufacture.[18][19] These "modernization" proposals have been criticized as disingenuous attempts to suppress adoption of and experimentation with 3D printers in home gunsmithing.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Hughes. "Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 (1988; 100th Congress H.R. 4445)". GovTrack.us. Retrieved 2016-02-27. 
  2. ^ "H.R. 4445 - Major Congressional Actions". Library of Congress. Retrieved 3 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Crooker, Constance (June 30, 2003). Gun Control and Gun Rights (Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America). Greenwood. ISBN 0313321744. 
  4. ^ Anderson, Jack; Van Atta, Dale (Jan 15, 1986). "Qaddafi Buying Austrian Plastic Pistols". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 November 2013. 
  5. ^ Feldman, Richard (October 1, 2007). Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471679283. 
  6. ^ Kopel, Dave (July 27, 2000). "The Cheney Glock-n-Spiel". National Review Online. Retrieved 14 November 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d Carter, Greg (May 4, 2012). Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 0313386706. 
  8. ^ Pub.L. 105–277, H.R. 4328, 112 Stat. 2681, enacted October 21, 1998
  9. ^ "Public Law 105–277 105th Congress" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 18, 2015. Retrieved April 18, 2015. 
  10. ^ Pub.L. 108–174, H.R. 3348, 117 Stat. 2481, enacted December 9, 2003
  11. ^ James Sensenbrenner Jr. "To reauthorize the ban on undetectable firearms. (2003; 108th Congress H.R. 3348)". GovTrack.us. Retrieved 2016-02-27. 
  12. ^ "Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie Objects to Plastic Gun Ban". 89.3 WFPL. 
  13. ^ Albanesius, Chloe (2013-12-10). "Obama Signs Bill to Extend Ban on Plastic Guns | News & Opinion". PCMag.com. Retrieved 2016-02-27. 
  14. ^ "NRA Statement on the Reauthorization of the "Undetectable Firearms Act", HR 3626". National Rifle Association - Institute for Legislative Action. December 3, 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  15. ^ Hutchinson, Lee (2013-05-03). "The first entirely 3D-printed handgun is here". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2016-02-27. 
  16. ^ "Wiki Weapon - 3D Printable Gun - Defense Distributed". Archived from the original on April 23, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2013. 
  17. ^ http://livestre.am/4gCcS. Retrieved November 14, 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  18. ^ H.R. 1474
  19. ^ S. 1149
  20. ^ "On Undetectable Firearms Act Renewal". blog.defdist.org. Defense Distributed. November 18, 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2013.