Rhetoric from social and mainstream media is running rampant with expected and appropriate outrage over continued senseless killings in the US. The gun control debate has never been hotter, and both sides are at fever pitch on needed laws restricting gun ownership versus rights of the citizenry to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Understandably, people are upset, and want this egregious behavior to end. Regardless on which side of gun control they stand, when asked about existing laws, people invariably have no answer; or if there is a guess, they believe the US does not have any gun laws.
The reality is there are laws controlling guns. The foundation of US gun law is the Second Amendment. Upon that, federal statutes exist to regulate the manufacture, trade, possession, transfer, record keeping, transport, and destruction of firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories.
Additionally, each state has its own laws. Therein will be regulations such as licensing, required classes, concealed and open carry rules, and who may own or possess a firearm. Residents of a particular state must check for their own applicable laws, and comply when purchasing a gun.
The current federal laws, enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, are:
• National Firearms Act (“NFA”) (1934): Taxes the manufacture and transfer of, and mandates the registration of Title II weapons such as machine guns, short barreled rifles, shotguns, heavy weapons, explosive ordnance, silencers, and disguised or improvised firearms.
• Federal Firearms Act of 1938 (“FFA”): Requires that gun manufacturers, importers, and persons in the business of selling firearms have a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Prohibits the transfer of firearms to certain classes of persons, such as convicted felons.
• Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (1968): Prohibited interstate trade in handguns, increased the minimum age to 21 for buying handguns.
• Gun Control Act of 1968 (“GCA”): Focuses primarily on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.
• Firearm Owners Protection Act (“FOPA”) (1986): Revised and partially repealed the Gun Control Act of 1968. Prohibited the sale to civilians of automatic firearms manufactured after the date of the law’s passage. Required ATF approval of transfers of automatic firearms.
• Undetectable Firearms Act (1988): Effectively criminalizes, with a few exceptions, the manufacture, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, transfer, or receipt of firearms with less than 3.7 oz of metal content.
• Gun-free School Zones Act (1990): Prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.
• Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993): Requires background checks on most firearm purchasers, depending on seller and venue.
• Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994–2004): Banned semiautomatics that looked like assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. The law expired in 2004.
• Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (2005): Prevent firearms manufacturers and licensed dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products.
In understanding the current position on US gun laws, it is important to pay attention to two recent Supreme Court rulings. They are: the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010). In the first, the majority opinion said the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home, thus clarifying the Second Amendment did not just protect gun ownership as it pertained only to a state’s militia. The second ruling clarified that the guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, and not just federal laws.
The most recent action that would have a large impact on gun usage in violent acts is President Trump signing a memo directing his attorney general to propose regulations which ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns. This means accessories like the bump stock would be banned.
The given laws and Supreme Court rulings manage gun sales and ownership, while still maintaining the rights of the US citizen to keep and bear arms. Gun control is a Constitutional issue, and if the majority of citizens want the law changed, there is a procedure to accomplish that. The Second Amendment must be repealed, and a new amendment for gun control put in place. It will take work and time; it will not happen overnight, nor will it come about without cooperation and unified effort from the populace of all the United States.