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 whole gun control vs. the Second Amendment debate start?

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.

1791

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.

1837

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

1865

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

1871

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

1927

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

1934

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

1938

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.

1968

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.

1972

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.

1977

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

1986

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.

1989

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

1990

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.

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.

1997

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.

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.

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 – 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 - 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 - 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 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.

1998 - December 1

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

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.

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.

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 - 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 - 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.

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.

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.

2005 – January

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

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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

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 – 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 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.

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Longley, Robert. "See a Timeline of Gun Control in the United States." ThoughtCo, Oct. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/us-gun-control-timeline-3963620. Longley, Robert. (2017, October 9). See a Timeline of Gun Control in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/us-gun-control-timeline-3963620 Longley, Robert. "See a Timeline of Gun Control in the United States." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/us-gun-control-timeline-3963620 (accessed October 22, 2017).