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.
The Second Amendment is ratified as part of the Bill of Rights, and says: “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.”
By Dec. 15, three-fourths of the states ratify the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The amendments are meant to secure individual liberties and to maintain the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The 10th Amendment states that powers not delegated to the federal government belong to the states. Although not specified in the 10th Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in years to come that laws affecting family relations, commerce within a state’s borders, and local law enforcement fall within state authority.
In Nunn v. State of Georgia, the Georgia Supreme Court rules that a Georgia law banning handguns is unconstitutional.
Congress passes the first federal gun restriction ever in reaction to the mob violence of Prohibition. The law banned the mail-order sale of handguns or any other concealable firearm.
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, and 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 to sell guns and to maintain a record of purchases. The law also prevents convicted felons from purchasing firearms.
In United States v. Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court concludes that the mandatory registration of sawed-off shotguns under the National Firearms Act is constitutional. Rejecting a Second Amendment challenge, the court rules that these types of guns are not part of any ordinary military equipment, that their use could not contribute to the common defense, and that their possession did not have any relationship to the preservation of a militia.
In the wake of rising crime and the gun-related assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F Kennedy, Congress enacts the Gun Control Act. The law regulates imported guns, expands licensing and record-keeping requirements, bans mail-order sales of guns and ammunition, raises the legal age to buy a gun, and prevents convicted felons, mentally ill people, illegal drug users and others from buying guns.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), later renamed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, is separated from the Internal Revenue Service and is formed as a separate law enforcement organization within the U.S. Department of Justice.
On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley shoots and seriously wounds President Ronald Reagan, White House press secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and Police Officer Thomas Delahanty. Hinckley is found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental hospital. Brady, who suffered permanent brain damage and paralysis, and his wife, Sarah, become gun-control advocates.
Congress responds to complaints from gun owners by repealing some federal restrictions on the purchase of out-of state rifles and shotguns with the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act. Proponents of the act argue that the laws did little to reduce crime. The act also permits citizens to transport “unloaded and inaccessible” guns from one state to another, regardless of local laws.
The Crime Control Act of 1990 bans the manufacture and import of certain semiautomatic assault weapons.
The Act makes it a federal crime to knowingly bring a gun within 1,000 feet of a school, or to fire a gun within that zone.
The Brady Law, named for former White House press secretary James Brady, who was seriously wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, is enacted, effective in 1994. 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 and/or the 1968 Gun Control Act.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 bans 19 types of semiautomatic weapons, ammunition clips holding more than ten rounds (except for military or police use) and handgun possession by anyone under age 18, and increases the requirements for federal gun dealer licenses.
The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban prohibits anyone from owning or possessing a gun if he or she has been convicted of a misdemeanor (or higher) domestic violence offense.
In the first case of its kind, the City of New Orleans files a lawsuit against gun manufacturers seeking reimbursement for costs related to gun violence in the city. In subsequent years, dozens of cities follow New Orleans, resulting in more than 30 lawsuits. In response, more than 20 states have passed laws making the gun industry immune from these lawsuits. The gun industry counters that it should not be liable for the unlawful actions of third parties.
In the first settlement of its kind, Smith & Wesson announces a legal settlement of many of the lawsuits brought against it by municipalities around the country, including Atlanta; Berkeley, Calif.; Camden, N.J.; Detroit; Gary, Ind.; Los Angeles; Miami-Dade; San Francisco; St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. The settlement binds Smith & Wesson to change the way it designs its guns (such as installing safety mechanisms like child safety locks and “smart gun” technology), and how it distributes its guns (such as only selling them only to authorized dealers who can prove that the guns they sell are not disproportionately used in crimes).
Five states – Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin – do not allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon. Most states allow citizens to obtain licenses to carry concealed weapons. In two states – Alaska and Vermont – there are no concealed weapon laws, so anyone who can legally have a gun can also carry it concealed in public.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, a provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, expires due to a 10-year sunset provision. The ban defined and outlawed the sale of semiautomatic “assault weapons” and magazines capable of holding ten or more rounds, and prohibited the possession of illegally imported or manufactured weapons. Supporters of the ban said it aided police officers and reduced gun violence; opponents said its provisions were arbitrary and ineffective.
The Semiautomatic Weapons Ban, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1994, is allowed to expire after 10 years when Congress and President George W. Bush take no action before the ban’s sunset date.
President George W. Bush signs into law the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects the sellers and manufacturers of firearms from liability from unlawful misuse of their products. The law passes after language is added requiring handguns to have safety locks when sold.
A student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., opens fire in a dormitory and classroom building, killing 32 people. At the time, it is the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The college was fined by the U.S. Department of Education for delaying notification of students. The shooting started at 7:15 a.m., but an email notification was not sent until 9:26 a.m. Forty-seven more people were shot after the notification. About 25 minutes later, another warning was sent by email, phone and loudspeaker. A jury later found Virginia Tech was negligent for delaying notification. Proposed gun-control legislation after the massacre goes nowhere.
Striking down a strict gun-control law in the District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, upholds an individual’s right to possess a handgun. The Court has not addressed the scope of the Second Amendment since 1939, and District of Columbia v. Heller is the first ruling to directly address the meaning of the amendment’s ambiguous wording: “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.” The Court says the right is not unlimited. For example, it said, laws on carrying concealed weapons or prohibiting possession by convicted felons should not be affected.
In 2009, Montana passes the Montana Firearms Freedom Act to allow Montana gun manufacturers to sell guns without a federal license. The bill, authored by Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, and supported by the National Rifle Association, attempts to reverse decades of gun legislation on the grounds that the federal government may not regulate firearms produced and distributed solely for use within a state. The law is eventually struck down by a District Court, but by 2014, eight more states – Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Tennessee, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming – will pass similar laws.
In a challenge to Chicago’s gun-control law, one of the strictest in the nation, the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonald v. Chicago says the Second Amendment applies equally to the federal government and state governments, giving a major victory to gun-rights supporters.
After a gunman carrying semiautomatic weapons kills 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a national debate over gun laws is revived. President Barack Obama proposes a renewed ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks for gun purchases. The National Rifle Association proposes placing armed security guards at all schools as the best way to protect children.
The U.S. Supreme Court votes 6-3 to strike down a century-old New York law that required people who want a permit to carry a concealed handgun outside the home for self-defense to show a special need for doing so. The case is New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.