Following an attempt on the life of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt with a handgun in 1933, Congress passes the National Firearms Act of 1934. The nation’s first federal gun control law taxes the manufacture, sale, and transfer of fully automatic firearms and “gangster-type weapons,” including machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. It also requires FBI background checks and local law enforcement notification for people who wish to purchase these weapons.
The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 requires gun sellers to obtain a license from the Internal Revenue Service to sell guns and to maintain a record of purchases. The act also prohibits convicted felons from purchasing firearms or ammunition. However, the law makes no provision for criminals who provide false information when they purchase weapons.
In 1927, Congress had passed legislation that banned mailing such concealable weapons as cane guns and pen guns, but until 1968 there is no law that regulates the mailing of rifles, shotguns, or handguns. Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the handgun-related assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968, Congress enacts the Gun Control Act. The act regulates imported guns, expands licensing and record keeping requirements, bans mail-order sales of guns and ammunition, raises the age at which one can legally buy a gun, and prevents convicted felons, mentally ill people, and illegal drug users from buying guns.
Displeased with the lack of vigorous enforcement of federal gun control laws, Congress separates the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) (since renamed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) from the Internal Revenue Service and forms it as a separate law enforcement organization within the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Gun-Free School Zones Act makes it a federal crime to knowingly bring a gun within a thousand feet of a school, or to fire a gun within that zone. However, in United States v. Lopez (1995), the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Congress overstepped its constitutional authority under the commerce clause when it passed this act. The Court finds that the punishment of gun possession and gun use near schools is a matter for each state to regulate on its own.
The Brady Law is named for former Presidential press secretary James Brady, who was seriously wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The law requires federally licensed firearm dealers to perform background checks with law enforcement officials before selling a firearm. During the background check, officials confirm whether the buyer falls within a category of individuals prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm by state law or the 1968 Gun Control Act. In Printz v. United States (1997) the U.S. Supreme Court holds that the Brady Law’s waiting-period requirement is constitutional, but finds that the mandatory background checks required of local authorities are unconstitutional.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 bans nineteen types of semiautomatic weapons and ammunition clips holding more than ten rounds (except for military or police use). It also bans handgun possession by anyone under age eighteen and increases the requirements for federal gun dealer licenses.
In the first settlement of its kind, the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson reaches a settlement in many of the lawsuits brought against it by municipalities around the country, including Atlanta; Berkeley, California; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Camden, New Jersey; Detroit; Gary, Indiana; Englewood, New Jersey; Los Angeles, Miami-Dade; San Francisco; St. Louis; and Washington, D.C. The settlement binds Smith & Wesson to change the way it designs and distributes its guns. The company is required to install safety mechanisms including child safety locks and “smart gun” technology and sell only to authorized dealers who can prove that the guns they sell are not disproportionately used in crimes.