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

The gun control debate in the United States goes back to the nation's founding, when the framers of the Constitution first wrote the Second Amendment, allowing private citizens to "keep and bear arms."

Gun control became a much bigger topic shortly after the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy's death increased public awareness of the relative lack of control over the sale and possession of firearms in America.

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.


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

The Second Amendment reads:

"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."


Georgia passes a law banning handguns. The law is ruled unconstitutional by the state's Supreme Court and is thrown out.


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


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


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


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 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 Gun Control Act of 1968 is 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 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. The ATF issues firearms licenses and conducts firearms licensee qualification and compliance inspections.


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


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.


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 detectable by walk-through metal detectors. The law prohibited guns from not containing enough metal to trigger security screening machines found in airports, courthouses and other secure areas accessible to the public.


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


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


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 prohibits the sale, manufacture, importation, or possession of several specific types of assault-type weapons for a 10-year period. However, the law expires on September 13, 2004, after Congress fails to reauthorize it.


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 an 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.

June 1998

A Justice Department report indicates the blocking of some 69,000 handgun sales during 1997 when the Brady Bill pre-sale background checks were required.

July 1998

An amendment requiring a trigger lock mechanism to be included with every handgun sold in the United States 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.

October 1998

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

Nov. 12, 1998

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

Nov. 17, 1998

A negligence suit against gunmaker 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.

Nov. 30, 1998

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.

Dec. 1, 1998

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

Dec. 5, 1998

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

January 1999

Civil suits against gunmakers seeking to recover costs of gun-related violence were filed in Bridgeport, Conn., and Miami-Dade County, Fla.

April 20, 1999

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

May 20, 1999

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.

Aug. 24, 1999

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

Sept. 13, 2004

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.

December 2004

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.

January 2005

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

October 2005

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 includes an amendment requiring all new guns to come with trigger locks.

January 2008

In a move supported by both opponents and advocates of gun control laws, President Bush signs 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.

June 26, 2008

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 overturns a 32-year-old ban on the sale or possession of handguns in the District of Columbia.

February 2010

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

Dec. 9, 2013

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.

July 29, 2015

In an effort to close the so-called “gun show loophole” allowing gun sales conducted without Brady Act background checks, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduces 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.

June 12, 2016

President Obama again calls 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 kills 49 people in an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub on June 12, using an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. In a call to 9-1-1 he made during the attack, Mateen told police he had pledged his allegiance to the radical Islamic terrorist group ISIS.

September 2017

A bill titled “Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act,” or SHARE Act (H.R. 2406) advances 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-S.C.) 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. 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 Oct. 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.

Oct. 1, 2017

Barely over a year after the Orlando shooting, a man identified as Stephen Craig Paddock opens fire on an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas. Shooting from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, Paddock kills at least 59 people and wounds 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 as if 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 aisle have called for laws specifically banning bump stocks, while others have also called for a renewal of the assault weapons ban.

Oct. 4, 2017

Less than a week after the Las Vegas shooting, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduces the “Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act” that would ban the sale and possession of bump stocks and other devices that allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire like a fully-automatic weapon.

The bill states:

“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.”

Oct. 5, 2017

Sen. Feinstein introduces the Background Check Completion Act. Feinstein says the bill would close a loophole in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

Feinstein said:

“Current law allows gun sales to proceed after 72 hours—even if background checks aren’t approved. This is a 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.”

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.

Feb. 21, 2018

Just days after the February 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump orders 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 similarly to a fully-automatic weapon.

Trump had previously indicated that he might support a new federal regulation banning the sale of such devices. 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters:

“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.”

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. 

July 31, 2018

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,” Lasnik wrote.

Before 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 Donald 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."

August 2019

In the wake of three mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio in the span of two weeks that left a total of almost three dozen people dead, a new push was made in Congress for gun control measures. Among the proposals were stronger background checks and limits on high-capacity magazines. "Red flag" laws also were proposed to allow police or family members to file a court petition to remove firearms from individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others.

August 9, 2019

President Donald Trump indicated he would support new legislation requiring “common-sense” background checks for gun purchases. “On background checks, we have tremendous support for really common-sense, sensible, important background checks,” Trump told reporters at the White House. Noting that he had spoken to National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, the president said the issue “isn't a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat. We will see where the NRA will be, but we need meaningful background checks.”

The House of Representatives had previously passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which would ban most person-to-person firearm transfers without a background check, including firearm transfers at gun shows and between individuals. The bill passed 240-190, with eight Republicans joining almost all Democrats in voting for the bill. As of September 1, 2019, the Senate had taken no action on the bill.

August 12, 2019

President Trump voiced his support for red flag gun confiscation laws. “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process," he said in televised remarks from the White House. “That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”

August 20, 2019

After speaking with NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre, President Trump seemed to back away from supporting expanded background checks for firearm purchases. “We have very strong background checks right now,” he said, speaking from the Oval Office. “And I have to tell you that it is a mental problem. And I've said it a hundred times it's not the gun that pulls the trigger, it's the people.” Trump also stressed his support for the Second Amendment, stating that he would not want to go down the “slippery slope” of infringing on the right to bear arms.

January 20, 2020

Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, on Jan. 30 introduced H.R. 5717, which would, among other items, ban the purchasing and possession of assault weapons. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced in February the Senate version of the bill, S.3254.

"The Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act will save lives and make our country safer – without infringing on any law-abiding individual’s right to own firearms," Johnson said in a news release issued as the bill was filed.

The legislation introduced a variety of reforms with the intent to "end the epidemic of gun violence and build safer communities by strengthening Federal firearms laws and supporting gun violence research, intervention, and prevention initiatives."

The bill addresses background checks, taxes on firearms and goods related to firearms, gun storage, accessibility of guns on school campuses, and more.

June 24, 2022

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law that placed strict restrictions on carrying concealed firearms in public for self-defense, finding its requirement that applicants seeking a concealed carry license demonstrate a special need for self-defense is unconstitutional.

In its 6-3 ruling on the case of, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Court reversed a lower court decision upholding New York's 108-year-old law limiting who can obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun in public.

Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the majority opinion for the ideologically divided court, writing that New York's "proper-cause requirement" prevented law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment right, and its licensing regime is unconstitutional.

"The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not 'a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees,'" Thomas wrote. "We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant's right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense."

The New York law, Thomas also wrote, violated the 14th amendment, which made Second Amendment rights apply to the states.

June 25, 2022

A guest holds up a copy of the Uvalde Leader-News at an event celebrating the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act at the White House in Washington, DC.
A guest holds up a copy of the Uvalde Leader-News at an event celebrating the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act at the White House in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

One month and one day after 19 children and three adults were killed in the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, President Joe Biden signed the most significant gun control law in the last three decades. “Their message to us was do something,” Biden said in signing the bill. “How many times have you heard that? Just do something. For God’s sake, just do something. But today we did.”

Titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the legislation was the result of negotiations by a handful of Republican and Democratic senators, led by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), in the wake of recent mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, New York.

The bill passed 234-193 along party lines in the House, with no Democratic defections. Fourteen Republicans voted in favor, including Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.), who represents Uvalde.

The law provides more funding for mental health services and school security, expands criminal background checks for some gun buyers, bars a larger group of domestic-violence offenders from purchasing firearms, and funds Red Flag programs that allow police to seize guns from troubled individuals.

July 2022

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday, July 29, 2022, banning the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, for the first time since a similar ban lapsed in 2004.

The 217-213 vote saw seven members cross party lines, but Democrats still overcame objections from Republicans, who argued the ban infringes on Second Amendment rights. Five Democrats voted against the bill, and two Republicans voted for it.

While the evenly divided Senate was considered unlikely to pass the measure, Democrats argued Friday’s vote was a needed step to counter a wave of mass shootings across the country.

“These military-style weapons are designed to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said during floor debate. “Quite simply, there is no place for them in our streets.”

The vote is the latest in a series of Democratic gun control bills to advance through the House since a wave of mass shootings during the year including the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students.

November 2022

After a spate of mass shootings—including the killing of six employees at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, and the attack on an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, in which police said the gunman used an AR-style rifle—President Joe Biden on Thanksgiving said that the “idea that we still allow semiautomatic weapons to be purchased is sick. … I’m going to try to get rid of assault weapons.” 

Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy also called for an assault weapons ban and suggested restricting funding to law enforcement agencies that declare themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” In July 2022 the U.S. House passed legislation banning assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, but the legislation is considered unlikely to pass the evenly divided Senate.

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Longley, Robert. "Timeline of Gun Control in the United States." ThoughtCo, Jan. 8, 2023, thoughtco.com/us-gun-control-timeline-3963620. Longley, Robert. (2023, January 8). Timeline of Gun Control in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/us-gun-control-timeline-3963620 Longley, Robert. "Timeline of Gun Control in the United States." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/us-gun-control-timeline-3963620 (accessed March 28, 2023).