Gun Control Laws

Timeline

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1791

The Second Amendment is ratified.

1934

The National Firearms Act imposes a tax on the sale and transfer of machine guns and short-barrel firearms, including sawed-off shotguns. Passed just after Prohibition's repeal, it follows widespread outrage over gangsters like John Dillinger and Al Capone.

1938

The Federal Firearms Act requires federal licensing of gun dealers.

1968

The Gun Control Act, following the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., expands licensing and record-keeping requirements. It prohibits felons and the mentally ill from buying guns and bans the sale of mail-order firearms, including rifles and shotguns.

1972

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is created to oversee the regulation of gun sales.

1986

The Firearms Owners Protection Act eases some gun sale restrictions and bars the government from creating a database of gun dealer records. The law, which also authorizes sales of guns between private owners, reflects the growing influence of the National Rifle Association and a strongly pro-gun Reagan administration.

1993

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named for the press secretary disabled by the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, requires gun dealers—although not private sellers—to run background checks on purchasers and authorizes the creation of a national database.

1994

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, passed by a Democratic Congress, bans the sale of new assault weapons for 10 years.

2003

The Tiahrt Amendment prohibits the disclosure of trace data about guns used in crimes. Following a wave of lawsuits against gun dealers, Congress also protects gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits if their guns are used in crimes.

2004

The assault weapons ban expires under a Republican-controlled Congress.

2007

After the massacre at Virginia Tech, Congress closes a loophole in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by requiring states to automate lists of people prohibited from buying firearms, including felons and the mentally ill, and put them in the federal database.