Federal Gun Laws

The debate on gun control includes many issues such as whether restrictions are permissible under the Constitution, and whether gun control laws actually help to control crime. State laws restricting firearms vary and are independent of federal firearms laws, which are surprisingly few compared to the estimated 300 major state gun laws. In addition, it has been widely estimated that the number of local gun laws could be as high as 20,000.

A list of the major Federal Law restricting gun control in the U.S. is strikingly short:

  • 1934 – National Firearms Act was a response to prohibition and the rise of gangsters, with the goal of curbing the use of automatic-fire weapons.
  • 1938 – Federal Firearms Act regulated and monitored the selling and shipping of firearms through both interstate and foreign commerce channels.
  • 1968 – Gun Control Act implemented license requirements and regulation, as well as restricting the sale of firearms to convicted felons, the mentally incompetent, and drug users. The Act also outlawed mail order sales of rifles and shotguns.
  • 1986 – Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act banned the sale of armor piercing ammunition that was capable of penetrating bullet proof clothing.
  • 1990 – Crime Control Act created criminal penalties for possessing firearms within school zones; and restricted the assembly of illegal semiautomatic rifles and shotguns.
  • 1994 – Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act enacted stricter rules for background checks.
  • 1994 – Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act banned assault weapons and enhanced laws for the possession of guns by juveniles.
  • 1999 – Gun Bill is passed that requires all new hand guns to have a trigger lock.

Proponents of gun control argue that stronger Federal laws are necessary to restrict firearms because state laws cannot curb the flow of guns from less restrictive states to more restrictive states. These advocates seek to ban specific firearms that are believed to be primarily used for criminal purposes or pose unusually high risks to the public. They also seek stricter regulations and restrictions on who may possess a firearm. Unfortunately, the actual impact of gun laws on crime is difficult to determine because there simply is not enough comprehensive, current, or accurate data to definitively assess whether there is a causal connection between guns and violence.

Various organizations collect data from the FBI and U.S. Census Bureau to provide some insight into the correlation between firearms and violence in the U.S. Four studies provide the following statistics:

  • In 2010, there were 14,748 murders reported by the FBI, and 9, 958 of those crimes involved a firearm;
  • There were 31,347 gun-related fatalities which include homicides, legal intervention, suicides, and accidents, in 2009;
  • Approximately 4.3 million victims reported non-lethal crimes including rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault in 2009. An estimated 22% of those crimes involved the use of weapons; and 8% of weapons used were firearms; and
  • In the five year period beginning in 1987, approximately 62,200 victims of violent crimes (1% of all violent crimes) used a gun to defend themselves. An additional 20,000 per year used a gun to protect property. These figures may also include persons who work as police officers and armed security guards.

Opponents of gun laws cite recent U.S. Supreme Court cases that hold the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for lawful purposes, such as self-defense, within the home and in federal enclaves. The Court has also affirmed lower court decisions that determined handguns are “arms” for the purposes of the Second Amendment. Critics of these decisions argue that the Constitution does not contain an express right of an individual to use firearms for personal self-defense, and that an individual’s need to protect themselves with weapons has been greatly diminished in modern society.