A History: Gun Control In the United States


To preface, this article is not intended to present a political opinion or view on any of the topics discussed; it is rather an in-depth look at the history of Federal gun control legislation in the United States in order to present mere facts to both political isles. However, I do recognize that I have my own biases that have had an effect on my writing, so please keep that in mind as you read.

Gun control legislation in the United States begins in the 1930’s as a direct result of ‘gangland crime’ and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The National Firearms Act passed in 1934 [referred to as the NFA], imposed a $200 tax [one that still exists today] on the manufacturing, transportation, and selling of specific firearms and firearms accessories. The firearms/accessories taxed included shotguns, rifles, machine guns, and silencers; at the time there were no federal restrictions on what type of weapons a private citizen could own.

The Federal Firearms Act [FFA], passed in 1938, created the need for a Federal Firearms License [FFL] for firearms manufacturers [both domestic and foreign], importers, and dealers. It also mandated stores to maintain records of the firearms they sold.

The United States v. Miller, a 1939 Supreme Court case dealt with Second Amendment and NFA directly, though it was actually a ploy by a pro-gun control district judge [Heartsill Ragon]. In the original case, Miller argued that the NFA was unconstitutional, and therefore his possession of a sawed-off shotgun was legal. The judge ruled that the NFA did violate the Constitution, forcing the case to the Supreme Court. Ragon knew that Miller, who had recently testified against his gang, would be forced into hiding and would not be able to attend the Supreme Court appeal. The Supreme Court stated that there was no evidence that a sawed-off shotgun had “some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia” and therefore could not determine whether or not the Second Amendment protected a private citizen to own one.

The first major federal limits on firearms occurred with the passing of the Gun Control Act [GCA] in 1968. This legislation updated the NFA [as a result of Constitutional issues] and replaced the FFA. The GCA implemented a federal age restriction of 21 for the purchasing of handguns and prohibited the mentally ill and felons from purchasing firearms. The bill also limited the importation of arms that had no ‘sporting purpose’ and required all guns to have serial numbers.

The 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act limited ATF inspection to one per year (unless there was just cause) and allowed dealers to sell firearms at gun shows. This bill also added to the GCA with the prohibition of civilian ownership and transfer of machine guns made after May of 1986.

Federal background checks came 1993 with the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act which amended the GCA. In addition to background checks, this bill also created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System [NICS], which is controlled by the FBI.

Commonly known today as the ‘assault weapons ban,’ the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act prohibited the production, transfer, and possession of so-called ‘assault weapons’ temporarily [between September of 1994 to September of 2004]. With this legislation, 19 specific and popular styles of firearms were banned [such as Armalite’s ever popular AR-15]. The legislation also banned any semi-automatic firearm with a detachable magazine that has two or more ‘characteristics’ of an assault weapon. These ‘characteristics’ ranged from pistol grips to barrel shrouds, and from adjustable stocks to weight limits.

In recent years, the gun control debate has once again become a hot topic dividing the nation. However,  with all of the false or confusing information coming from both sides of the debate, it remains important for individuals to conduct their own research to separate fact from fiction. The fundamental issue that plagues the topic of gun control, and America as a whole, is the inability of both sides to listen to one another and create solutions together. With a divided government and country we, as Americans, will never be able to solve any of our problems, let alone the issues of firearms legislation. Americans must come together and compromise as we have in the past, or else the country has sealed its fate.