Gun Laws in America

A history of the events and
debate that inspired them.

1911 -- New York passes the Sullivan Law, which makes buying or
carrying a handgun without a permit a felony. The fledgling National
Rifle Association, primarily a hobbyist and sportsmen's club, for the first
time enters the political fray against gun control. The issue is squelched,
however, with the beginning of World War I.

1922 -- The American Bar Association Committee on Law Enforcement calls
for a ban on the manufacture and sale of pistols except for governmental and
official use.

1927 -- Congress passes law banning mail-order sales of handguns, but
gun-control advocates fail to pass federal law forbidding the shipment of
handguns by commercial carriers across state lines. States begin passing laws
regulating the sale and use of handguns.

1934 -- Reacting to the proliferation of gangsters and their use of the
Thompson Submachine Gun, Congress passes the National Firearms Act.
The law places heavy taxes on all aspects of the manufacture and distribution
of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. Handguns, however, are left off the list.

1938 -- Again trying to help states with their own gun-control enforcement,
the Federal Firearms Act is passed, requiring anyone sending or receiving guns
across state lines to be federally licensed. Efforts by the U.S. Attorney General
to require handgun registration again fail.

-- Anti-gun sentiment takes a back seat to World War II and the
Cold War. The development of television and increase of Western movies
romanticize guns. The small-arms industry, beleaguered before the war, thrives.
Toy gun sales skyrocket as does NRA membership.

1959 -- Rise in firearms accidents in the home and by hunters begins to
raise public concern. A 1959 Gallup poll on guns, the first such in 20
years, reveals that three out of four who were questioned believe a
permit should be required to buy a gun. Fifty-nine percent agreed that
handguns should be outlawed except for use by police.

1963 -- Assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22 shifts gun-control
debate into high gear. Within  a week of his death, a dozen firearm bills are
introduced, but it would be another five years before important legislation
is passed.

1968 -- The Gun Control Act of 1968 is passed in the wake of the assassinations
of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

1986 -- Congress passes the Firearm Owners' Protection Act, which still is in
effect. Law makes it unlawful for anyone -- not just licensed dealers -- to sell to
prohibited people. But the act also dismantled many of the harsher penalties of
the 1968 law. The Law legalized mail-order purchases of ammunition and gun
components and placed higher burdens of proof on law enforcement before
forfeiture of a gun.

1989 -- Patrick Pard, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, kills five
children and wounds 29 at an elementary school in Stockton, Calif. In
response, several states ban the sale and possession of semi-automatic
rifles. It eventually leads to the 1994 Violent Crimes Control Act.

1990 -- Gun-Free School Zones Act is passed as part of the Crime Control
Act. The law makes it illegal for anyone to knowingly possess firearms in school
zones. The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the law in 1995.

1993 -- The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act establishes a five-day
waiting period and mandatory background check on handgun purchases.
Applies only to sales by licensed dealers. The act is named for Presidential
Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot by John Hinckley during an
attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The law is
supported by most law-enforcement agencies, but opponents say law does
not stop criminals from buying guns through secondary and straw purchases.

1994 -- Violent Crimes Control Act bans 19 types of semi-automatic assault
rifles, including the Uzi, TEC-9 and Street Sweeper. The law does not pertain
to firearms purchased before the act. Act is due for renewal in 2004

1998 -- Instant background checks replace five-day waiting period. Some
states, such as California, retain cooling-off periods. Rifle and shotgun buyers
must now undergo background checks.

2004 -- Violent Crimes Control Act is not renewed and thus becomes null and void.
-- -- --

Sources: General Accounting Office; Sourcebook of Criminal Justice
Statistics, Department of Justice; National Rifle Association.

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