Gun Control Legislation - Federal - Throughout the Years

Through American history, notorious, high-profile gun incidents have brought gun control into the national spotlight.

The recent tragedies at Virginia Tech and at Columbine High School as well as other shootings of multiple people similar to the one in Santee, California are frequently followed by attempts at renovations in gun laws as well as a public debate regarding gun owners’ rights in America.

Irrespective of these debates, there has been a minimal response from Congress regarding new gun control legislation at the federal level. 1994’s Assault Weapons Ban, passed five years before Columbine, was the last significant federal gun law.

There have been a couple bills that have been proposed that would limit gun ownership and control including a bill that targeted handguns and would have subjected the handguns to the same restrictions as machine guns. However this bill died before the Congress adjourned the year it was proposed. Since then, the only debate in the future of Congress was essentially regarding closing the frequently called “gun show loophole.”

New legislation frequently introduced in the Senate seeks to close a "loophole" in the current federal gun laws which permits unlicensed gun sellers at swap meets and flea markets to sell various types of guns without requiring the owners to do the same requisite background checks that are generally required of FFL licensed sellers.

President George W. Bush has proven that it is unlikely that he will provide any support on any and all federal restrictions on gun dealers or guns. President Bush and his administration are firm defenders of firearms and gun rights, therefore if any laws are passed during his administration, they will likely be passed at the state level. With the 2008 election fast approaching and the recent Virginia Tech tragedy, gun politics and topics are back in the forefront.

The following timeline will help provide a background and context for congressional actions through the years. The timeline features important national organizations and federal legislation tied to the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights and the hot topic issue of gun control.

1791 – Second Amendment Ratified

The explicit language of the Amendment states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” See the United States Constitution

1871 – National Rifle Association Founded

Union soldiers General George Wingate and Col. William C. Church found the National Rifle Association (NRA) to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” Ambrose Burnside, a decorated Civil War General and former United States Senator and governor of Rhode Island serves as the NRA’s first president.

1934 – National Firearms Act

The National Firearms Act came as a result of the rise of the gangster culture and immense lawlessness during the prohibition era. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spearheaded this act with the intention of eliminating automatic fire weapons including machine guns from the streets of America. Including machine guns, the intention of the National Firearms Act was to eliminate rifles, short barreled shotguns, “gadget-type” firearms such as those hidden in canes and parts of guns including silencers. Additionally, all gun manufacturers and gun sales were charged a $200 tax (this was a considerable amount during the Great Depression and the equivalent of approximately $2,525 today) on each gun, and all purchasers were mandated to fill out paperwork that was strictly subject to the approval of the Treasury Department.

1938 – Federal Firearms Act

The intention of this law, created by Congress was to target those involved in shipping and selling firearms through foreign and interstate commerce channels. Each entity involved in the selling of firearms was mandated to obtain a FFL or Federal Firearms License from the Secretary of Commerce (at the time for a $1 annual fee). The entity was also mandated to record the addresses and names of each individual they sold guns to and disqualified from selling guns to certain people who were convicted of specific crimes or were not in position of a permit.

1968 – Gun Control Act

The 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas Texas was the impetus for major federal gun reformations within the Gun Control Act. It has frequently been determined that Kennedy was assassinated using a weapon that was purchased by mail order by Lee Harvey Oswald. The following assassinations of Martin Luther King and attorney general and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy further expedited the Gun Control Acts passage. License requirements were expanded to include more detailed record keeping and more dealers; the list of persons whom dealers were unable to sale to now included those convicted of felonies (with some minor exceptions), those found mentally incompetent, drug abusers and more and handgun sales over state lines were restricted. The Gun Control Act also specifically defined individuals who were banned from owning and possessing firearms.

The essential element of this bill was that it outlawed mail order sales of shotguns and rifles. Prior to this law, mail order consumers simply had to sign a statement that they were over 21 years of age for a handgun (only 18 years old for a rifle or shotgun). The Act also detailed additional persons who were banned from owning and possessing certain guns, including drug users and took the restrictions on rifles and shotgun sales further.

1972 – Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Created

The responsibility of enforcing the Gun Control Act was given to the Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Internal Revenue Service. The ATG replaced tax with firearms nearly doubling its size when it officially became the Bureau of Alcohol, tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

1986 – Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act

This Act made it illegal for anyone to import or manufacture armor piercing ammunition, or “cop killer bullets, that are able to penetrate bulletproof clothing.

1986 – Firearms Owners’ Protection Act

This act actually eased restrictions on the sale of some guns and gun sellers, however the act imposed additional penalties for individuals using a firearm during the commission of certain crimes and persons with burglary or robbery convictions who are illegally shipping guns.

1990 – Crime Control Act

Required the attorney general to create a paradigm for establishing “drug free school zones,” including providing sanctions and criminal penalties for discharging or possessing a firearm in a school zone. The Act outlawed the assembly of illegal shoguns or semiautomatic rifles from legally imported parts.

1994 – Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act

This act imposed, on an interim basis, a background check and a five day waiting period before a license gun manufacturer, importer or dealer can deliver or sell a handgun to an unlicensed individual.

A new National Instant Criminal Background Check System was created and required to be run by the FBI. The new system applies to all firearms and allows background checks to be done electronically or over the phone with the results in most cases received immediately.

1994 – Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

Frequently called the “Assault Weapons Ban,” this act banned the possession, manufacture and importation of large capacity ammunition feeding devices (magazines) and new semiautomatic assault weapons for civilian use.

It established a specific criteria for semiautomatic assault weapons which flal under the ban including a list of 19 specific firearms.

Lastly the act outlaws juveniles from selling or possessing handguns and directs the attorney general to guide existing and proposed state juvenile gun laws.

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