See a Timeline of Gun Control in the United States

Gun control protest
Proponents of increased gun control laws demonstrate in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

When did the gun control debate begin in this country? 

Some say it started shortly after November 22, 1963 when evidence in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy increased public awareness to the relative lack of control over the sale and possession of firearms in America. Indeed, until 1968, handguns, rifles, shotguns, and ammunition were commonly sold over-the-counter and through mail-order catalogs and magazines to just about any adult anywhere in the nation.

However, America's history of federal and state laws regulating private ownership of firearms goes back much farther. In fact, all the way back to 1791.

2018 – July 31

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle issued a temporary restraining blocking the release of blueprints that could be used to produce untraceable and undetectable 3D-printable plastic guns. Assembled from ABS plastic parts, 3D guns are firearms that can be made with a computer-controlled 3D printer. The judge acted partly in response to a lawsuit filed against the federal government by several states to block the release of blueprints for 3D-printed plastic guns.

Judge Lasnik’s order banned the Austin, Texas-based gun rights group Defense Distributed from allowing the public to download the blueprints from its website. “There is a possibility of irreparable harm because of the way these guns can be made,” Judge Lasnik wrote. Prior to the restraining order, plans for assembling a variety of guns, including an AR-15-style rifle and a Beretta M9 handgun could be downloaded from the Defense Distributed website.

Shortly after the restraining order was issued, President Trump (@realDonaldTrump) tweeted, “I am looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”

The NRA said in a statement that "anti-gun politicians" and certain members of the press had wrongly claimed that 3D printing technology "will allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms."

2018 - February 21

Just days after the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump ordered the Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to review bump fire stocks — devices that allow a semi-automatic rifle to be fired in fully-automatic mode.Trump had previously indicated that he might support a new federal regulation banning the sale of such devices. 

“The President, when it comes to that, is committed to ensuring that those devices are -- again, I'm not going to get ahead of the announcement, but I can tell you that the President doesn't support use of those accessories,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a press conference.

On February 20, Sanders stated that the President would support “steps” to raise the current minimum age for buying military-style weapons, such as the AR-15—the weapon used in the Parkland shooting—from 18 to 21.

“I think that's certainly something that's on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks,” Sanders said. 

2017 – October 5

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced the Background Check Completion Act Sen. Feinstein said would close a current loophole in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check is not completed after 72 hours, even if the gun buyer is not legally allowed to purchase a gun.

“Current law allows gun sales to proceed after 72 hours — even if background checks aren’t approved. This is dangerous loophole that could allow criminals and those with mental illness to complete their purchase of firearms even though it would be unlawful for them to possess them,” said Feinstein.

The The Background Check Completion Act would require that a background check be fully completed before any gun buyer who purchases a gun from a federally-licensed firearms dealer (FFL) can take possession of the gun.

2017 – October 4

Less than a week after the Las Vegas shooting, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced the “Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act” that would ban the sale and possession of bump stocks and other devices that essentially turn a semiautomatic weapon to fire in fully-automatic mode.

“It shall be unlawful for any person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a trigger crank, a bump-fire device or any part, combination of parts, component, device, attachment or accessory that is designed or functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machine gun,” the bill states.

2017 – October 1 

On October 1, 2017, barely over a year after the Orlando shooting, a man identified as Stephen Craig Paddock opened fire on an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas. Shooting from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, Paddock killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500 others. 

Among the at least 23 firearms found in Paddock’s room were legally-purchased, semi-automatic AR-15 rifles which had been fitted with commercially-available accessories known as “bump-stocks,” which allow semi-automatic rifles to be fired in fully-automatic mode of up to nine rounds per second. Under a law enacted in 2010, bump-stocks are treated as legal, after-market accessories.

In the aftermath of the incident, lawmakers on both sides of the isle have called for laws specifically banning bump stocks, while others have also called for renewal of the assault weapons ban.

2017 – September

In September 2017, a bill titled “Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act,” or SHARE Act (H.R. 2406) advanced to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. While the main purpose of the bill is to expand access to public land for, hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting, a provision added by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina) called The Hearing Protection Act would reduce the current federal restrictions on purchasing firearm silencers, or suppressors.

Currently, the restrictions on silencer purchases are similar to those for machine guns, including extensive background checks, waiting periods, and transfer taxes. Rep. Duncan’s provision would eliminate those restrictions.

Backers of Duncan’s provision argue that it would help recreational hunters and shooters protect themselves from hearing loss. Opponents say it would make it harder for police and civilians to locate the source of gunfire, potentially resulting in more casualties.

Witnesses to the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, reported that the gunfire coming from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Resort sounded like “popping” that was at first mistaken as fireworks. Many argue that the inability to hear the gunshots made the shooting even more deadly.

2016 - June 12

President Obama again called on Congress to enact or renew a law prohibiting the sale and possession of assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines after a man identified as Omar Mateen killed 49 people in an Orlando, Florida gay nightclub on June 12, using an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. In a call to 911 he made during the attack, Mateen told police he had pledged his allegiance to the radical Islamic terrorist group ISIS.

2015 – July 29

In an effort to close the so-called “gun show loophole” allowing gun sales conducted without Brady Act background checks, U.S. Rep. Speier, Jackie (D-California) introduced the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2015 (H.R. 3411), to require background checks for all gun sales including sales made over the Internet and at gun shows.

2013 – December 9

The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, requiring that all guns must contain enough metal to be detectable by security screening machines was extended through 2035.

2010 – February

A federal law signed by President Barak Obama takes effect allowing licensed gun owners to bring firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges as long as they are allowed by state law.

2008 – June 26

In its landmark decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment affirmed the rights of individuals to own firearms. The ruling also overturned a 32-year old ban on the sale or possession of handguns in the District of Columbia.

2008 – January

In a move supported by both opponents and advocates of gun control laws, President Bush signed the National Instant Criminal Background Check Improvement Act requiring gun buyer background checks to screen for legally declared mentally ill individuals, who are ineligible to buy firearms.

2005 – October

President Bush signs the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act limiting the ability of victims of crimes in which guns were used to sue firearms manufacturers and dealers. The law included an amendment requiring all new guns to come with trigger locks.

2005 – January

California bans the manufacture, sale, distribution or import of the powerful .50-caliber BMG, or Browning machine gun rifle.

2004 – December

Congress fails to continue funding for President George W. Bush’s 2001 gun control program, Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Massachusetts becomes the first state to implement an electronic instant gun buyer background check system with fingerprint scanning for gun licenses and gun purchases.

2004 – September 13

After lengthy and heated debate, Congress allows the 10-year old Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 banning the sale of 19 types of military-style assault weapons to expire.

1999 - August 24

The Los Angeles County, CA Board of Supervisors votes 3 - 2 to ban the Great Western Gun Show, billed as the "world's largest gun show" from the Pomona, CA fairgrounds where the show had been held for the last 30 years.

1999 - May 20

By a 51-50 vote, with the tie-breaker vote cast by Vice President Al Gore, the U.S. Senate passes a bill requiring trigger locks on all newly manufactured handguns and extending waiting period and background check requirements to sales of firearms at gun shows.

1999 – April 20
At Columbine High School near Denver, students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shoot and kill 12 other students and a teacher, and wounding 24 others before killing themselves. The attack renewed debate on the need for more restrictive gun control laws.

1999 – January
Civil suits against gun makers seeking to recover costs of gun-related violence are filed in Bridgeport, Connecticut and Miami-Dade County, Florida.

1998 - December 5

President Bill Clinton announces that the instant background check system had prevented 400,000 illegal gun purchases. The claim is called "misleading" by the NRA.

1998 - December 1

The NRA files suit in federal court attempting to block the FBI's collection of information on firearm buyers.

1998 - November 30

Permanent provisions of the Brady Act go into effect. Gun dealers are now required to initiate a pre-sale criminal background check of all gun buyers through the newly created National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) computer system.

1988 – November 10

President Ronald Reagan signs the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, making it illegal to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive any firearm that is not as detectable by walk-through metal detectors. The law prohibited guns not containing enough metal to trigger security screening machines found in airports, courthouses and other secure areas accessible to the public.

1998 - November 17

A negligence suit against gun maker Beretta brought by the family of a 14-year old boy killed by another boy with a Beretta handgun is dismissed by a California jury.

1998 - November 12

Chicago, IL files a $433 million suit against local gun dealers and makers alleging that oversupplying local markets provided guns to criminals.

1998 – October

New Orleans becomes the first U.S. city to file suit against gun makers, firearms trade associations, and gun dealers. The city's suit seeks recovery of costs attributed to gun-related violence.

1998 – July

An amendment requiring a trigger lock mechanism to be included with every handgun sold in the U.S. is defeated in the Senate.

But, the Senate approves an amendment requiring gun dealers to have trigger locks available for sale and creating federal grants for gun safety and education programs.

1998 - June

A Justice Department report indicates the blocking of some 69,000 handgun sales during 1977 when the Brady Bill pre-sale background checks were required.


The U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Printz v. United States, declares the background check requirement of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act unconstitutional.

The Florida Supreme Court upholds a jury's $11.5 million verdict against Kmart for selling a gun to and intoxicated man who used the gun to shoot his estranged girlfriend.

Major American gun manufacturers voluntarily agree to include child safety trigger devices on all new handguns.

1994 – The Brady Law and Assault Weapon Ban

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act imposes a five-day waiting period on the purchase of a handgun and requires that local law enforcement agencies conduct background checks on purchasers of handguns.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 prohibited the sale, manufacture, importation, or possession of a number of specific types of assault type weapons for a ten-year period. However, the law expired on September 13, 2004, after Congress failed to reauthorize it.


The Crime Control Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-647) bans manufacturing and importing semiautomatic assault weapons in the U.S. "Gun-free school zones" are established carrying specific penalties for violations.


California bans the possession of semiautomatic assault weapons following the massacre of five children on a Stockton, CA school playground.


The Armed Career Criminal Act increases penalties for possession of firearms by persons not qualified to own them under the Gun Control Act of 1986.

The Firearms Owners Protection Act (Public Law 99-308) relaxes some restrictions on gun and ammunition sales and establishes mandatory penalties for use of firearms during the commission of a crime.

The Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act (Public Law 99-408) bans possession of "cop killer" bullets capable of penetrating bulletproof clothing.


The District of Columbia enacts an anti-handgun law which also requires registration of all rifles and shotguns within the District of Columbia.


The federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is created listing as part of its mission the control of illegal use and sale of firearms and the enforcement of Federal firearms laws. ATF issues firearms licenses and conducts firearms licensee qualification and compliance inspections.


The Gun Control Act of 1968 - was enacted for the purpose of “keeping firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetence.” The Act regulates imported guns, expands the gun-dealer licensing and record keeping requirements, and places specific limitations on the sale of handguns. The list of persons banned from buying guns is expanded to include persons convicted of any non-business related felony, persons found to be mentally incompetent, and users of illegal drugs.


The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 places the first limitations on selling ordinary firearms. Persons selling guns are required to obtain a Federal Firearms License, at an annual cost of $1, and to maintain records of the name and address of persons to whom firearms are sold. Gun sales to persons convicted of violent felonies were prohibited.


The National Firearms Act of 1934, regulating the manufacture, sale and possession of fully automatic firearms like sub-machine guns is approved by Congress.


The U.S. Congress passes a law banning the mailing of concealable weapons.


The National Rifle Association (NRA) is organized around its primary goal of improving American civilians' marksmanship in preparation for war.


In a reaction to emancipation, several southern states adopt "black codes" which, among other things, forbid black persons from possessing firearms.


Georgia passes a law banning handguns. The law is ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and is thrown out.


The Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment -- "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." gains final ratification.