A timeline of gun legislation in the United States
The Second Amendment
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. It states, "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." Two hundred years later, a dispute rages over its interpretation: Is it every American's right to own a gun? Or, is arms ownership limited to a military context? In 2008, the Supreme Court affirms the right for individuals to bear arms.
The National Rifle Association (NRA)
The National Rifle Association (NRA), established in 1871, has become the best known defender of the Second Amendment interpreted for individual gun ownership.
National Firearms Act
Created in response to organized crime, the National Firearms Act imposes a yearly tax on every firearm, and requires all buyers to fill out paperwork subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Federal Firearms Act
The sale of firearms now requires a Federal Firearms License (FFL) authorized by the U.S. Commerce Department. Gun retailers are required to record the names of buyers, and were prohibited from selling to individuals convicted of certain crimes.
Gun Control Act
License requirements are expanded to include more dealers, with more detailed record-keeping. Interstate handgun sales were restricted, and the list of those prohibited from making purchases expands; individuals convicted of felonies, those found mentally incompetent, and drug users were prohibited from obtaining guns. Mail-order sales of rifles and shotguns become prohibited.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is established. Previous incarnations of the bureau, dating back to the late 1700's, had collected firearm-related taxes, but the new offshoot of the Treasury Department is tasked with enforcing the Gun Control Act and it takes the spotlight as a foe of organized crime.
Firearms Owners' Protection Act
The Firearms Owner's Protection Act eases restrictions on gun sellers. It repeals certain record-keeping requirements for the sale of ammunition (which had included the name, age, and address of the purchaser, as well as the date of sale) and permits mail-order sale of ammunition, but also imposes additional penalties for certain crimes involving firearms.
Crime Control Act / Gun-Free School Zones Act
The possession or discharge of a firearm within a school zone is prohibited and criminal penalties are increased. More than 40 states outlaw the possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act
Named for White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was paralyzed by a gunshot in the assassination attempt of President Reagan, the act requires a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases and a background check for unlicensed buyers. In 1998, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System goes online, allowing the FBI to run immediate background checks on gun buyers.
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act / Federal Assault Weapons Ban
The manufacturing, possession and importation of new semi-automatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices are banned. Juveniles are prohibited from possessing or selling handguns. The attorney general is appointed to evaluate proposed and existing state juvenile gun laws. Ten years later, in 2004, Congress fails to reauthorize the ban and many types of semi-automatic weapons become legal to purchase.
NICS Improvement Amendments Act
After a troubled student legally purchases weapons then kills 32 people at Virginia Tech, the national background check system is upgraded to include information about the mentally ill.