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Federal Gun Laws

Timeline of Federal Gun Legislation

  • 1791 – Second Amendment Ratified

    “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.”

  • 1934 – National Firearms Act

    Brought about by the lawlessness and rise of gangster culture during prohibition, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped this act would eliminate automatic-fire weapons like machine guns from America’s streets. Other firearms such as short-barreled shotguns and rifles, parts of guns like silencers, as well as other “gadget-type” firearms hidden in canes and such were also targeted. All gun sales and gun manufacturers were slapped with a $200 tax (no small amount for Americans mired in the Great Depression; that would be like a tax of $2,525 today) on each firearm, and all buyers were required to fill out paperwork subject to Treasury Dept. approval.

  • 1938 – Federal Firearms Act

    Congress aimed this law at those involved in selling and shipping firearms through interstate or foreign commerce channels. Anyone involved in the selling of firearms was required to obtain a Federal Firearms License from the Secretary of Commerce ($1 annual fee). They were also required to record the names and addresses of everyone they sold guns to and were prohibited from selling to those people who were convicted of certain crimes or lacked a permit.

  • 1968 - Gun Control Act

    The assassination of John F. Kennedy, who was killed by a mail-order gun that belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald, inspired this major revision to federal gun laws. The subsequent assasinations of Martin Luther King and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy fueled its quick passage. License requirements were expanded to include more dealers, and more detailed record keeping was expected of them; handgun sales over state lines were restricted; the list of persons dealers could not sell to grew to include those convicted of felonies (with some exceptions), those found mentally incompetent, drug users and more. The act also defined persons who were banned from possessing firearms.

    The key element of this bill outlawed mail order sales of rifles and shotguns; Up until this law, mail order consumers only had to sign a statement that they were over 21 years of age for a handgun (18 for rifle or shotgun); it also detailed more persons who were banned from possessing certain guns, including drug users, and further restricted shotgun and rifles sales.

  • 1972 – Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms created

    Enforcement of the Gun Control Act was given to the Dept. of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Internal Revenue Service. The organization replaced “tax” with “firearms,” nearly doubled in size, and became the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

  • 1986 – Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act

    Made it illegal for anyone to manufacture or import armor piercing ammunition, or “cop-killer bullets,” which are capable of penetrating bulletproof clothing.

    1986 – Firearms Owners’ Protection Act

    Eased restrictions on gun sellers and the sale of some guns. Imposed additional penalties for persons using a firearm during certain crimes and persons with robbery or burglary convictions who are illegally shipping guns.

  • 1990 – Crime Control Act

    Directed the attorney general to develop a strategy for establishing “drug-free school zones,” including criminal penalties for possessing or discharging a firearm in a school zone. Outlawed the assembly of illegal semiautomatic rifles or shotguns from legally imported parts.

  • 1994 – Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act

    Imposed, on an interim basis, a five-day waiting period and background check before a licensed gun importer, manufacturer or dealer can sell or deliver a handgun to an unlicensed individual.

    Required a new National Instant Criminal Background Check System, run by the FBI, be ready to replace the waiting period by Nov. 30, 1998. The new background check system will apply to all firearms and will allow checks to be done over the phone or electronically with results returned immediately in most cases.

    Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

    Commonly referred to as the “Assault Weapons Ban,” this bill banned the manufacture, possession, and importation of new semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices (or magazines) for civilian use.

    Criteria for semiautomatic assault weapons that fall under the ban are provided as well as a list of 19 specific firearms.

    Prohibits juveniles from possessing or selling handguns and directs the attorney general to evaluate proposed and existing state juvenile gun laws.