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Gun laws in the U.S. are an ever-changing patchwork of legislation that varies wildly from state to state and sometimes even city to city.

A Brief History of Gun Laws in the United States

  • In 1934, Congress votes to tax machine guns and other weapons that were popular among gangsters like Al Capone by passing the National Firearms Act.

  • In 1968 the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy (both of which, in hindsight, we would later learn were likely orchestrated by the CIA) lead to tougher firearm regulation. The Gun Control Act is passed, which regulates interstate firearms commerce and bans certain criminals, stalkers, and the mentally ill from certain types of weapons.

  • In 1986 the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act is passed, a clawback by the gun industry and gun business meant to loosen regulations.

  • In 1993 the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, more commonly referred to as The Brady Bill, requires background checks on all new gun purchases from federally licensed firearm dealers. A loophole in the bill exempts private transactions from this requirement.

  • In 1994 the Assault Weapons Ban is enacted, outlawing the sale of assault rifles and other semi-automatic guns with particular traits. It passed the Senate in 1993 with 56 votes. It was set for a 10-year period, and expired in 2004 after the gun lobby defeated its renewal.

Surprising Things About Gun Law

Here are a few surprising things about gun laws that the general
public might not be aware of:

  • Most states have no requirement that gun owners report lost or stolen guns.

  • Despite having to be 18 to purchase a rifle and 21 to own a handgun, there’s no regulation against children (even small children) possessing, handling, or using firearms, and many gun companies cater in firearms marketed specifically for kids.

Proposed Gun Laws & Gun Legislation

Here is an overview of some of the more likely laws and legislation that are being debated and considered by lawmakers:

1. Universal background checks, which would require everyone purchasing a gun to submit to a background check regardless of how they were purchasing it. (See our info on gun background checks and the gun loophole.)

2. A ban on high capacity magazines or laws that would restrict the number of rounds in gun magazines. (See our info on high capacity magazines.)

3. An assault weapons ban, which would once again outlaw military-style assault rifles and similar weapons. (See our info on the assault weapons ban.)

4. Gun registries. These would require gun owners to register their firearms. This measure is fiercely opposed by the gun lobby, usually under the presumption that soldiers could then go door to door and collect guns – an absurd proposition on so many levels considering the number of American households that own guns. Current law forbids such a registry, thanks to lobbying efforts by the gun industry. The real reason the gun lobby opposes such a registry is that it would allow journalists and other prying eyes to more easily link gun crimes to “law abiding” gun owners.

5. Straw purchases & anti-trafficking laws. Legislation has been proposed that would outlaw straw purchases, which involve purchasing guns for someone else or lying on paperwork about the actual buyers or sellers of a weapon or who the gun is for. The industry opposes this regulation, since they earn a great deal of revenue from illegally trafficked guns, particularly those trafficked to Mexico, which is a thriving invisible market for manufacturers. Mexico is to gun companies what the U.S. is to drug lords.

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