Gun Control

March 8, 2013 – Volume 23, Issue 10
Should lawmakers tighten firearm restrictions? By Barbara Mantel

Introduction

The parents of Ana Márquez-Greene (AFP/Getty Images/Don Emmert)  
The parents of Ana Márquez-Greene, one of the 20 first-graders killed last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., attend a local news conference on Jan. 14. The shootings have triggered a flurry of debates over federal and state gun laws. (AFP/Getty Images/Don Emmert)

The debate over gun control has been inescapable since last December, when Adam Lanza killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., before taking his own life in one of the nation's most horrific mass shootings. There have been marches and protests, Super Bowl advertisements, emotional and contentious congressional and state hearings and a new, tough gun-control law in New York state. Polls show broad bipartisan public support for expanding background checks to include private gun purchases, although support is weaker and more polarized for a ban on assault-style weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. Yet momentum may be fading in Congress for passage of any new gun-control legislation as members grapple with the federal government's looming debt limit and this month's automatic budget cuts.

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Overview

The debate over gun control has been inescapable since last December, when Adam Lanza used a so-called assault rifleFootnote * to kill 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., before taking his own life in one of the most horrific mass shootings in the nation's history.

The fallout from the massacre has been widespread and relentless: marches and protests, fiery advertisements, celebrity endorsements, contentious congressional and state hearings, proposed federal and state legislation and a tough, new gun-control law in New York state.

But whether the shooting will spur Congress to pass stricter nationwide controls remains a toss-up — some support exists, even among conservatives, for expanding background checks to include private firearm sales, but a federal ban on assault weapons seems to be a nonstarter. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 firearm-related bills have been introduced in state legislatures, but only New York has passed one to date.

In late January, more than 2,000 people descended on Connecticut's statehouse in Hartford for a packed public hearing that ran more than 17 hours. In a visual symbol of the revived and often rancorous discussion of gun violence, gun-rights advocates sported round yellow stickers reading “Another Responsible Gun Owner,” while gun-control supporters wore green ribbons in remembrance of Newtown.1

Colorado supporters of gun ownership, including Theresa White of Estes Park (Getty Images/Marc Piscotty)  
Colorado supporters of gun ownership, including Theresa White of Estes Park, demonstrate at the state Capitol in Denver on Jan. 9, 2013. The nation's state lawmakers are divided on new gun legislation. Many favor tougher background checks, but others oppose limits on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The public strongly favors expanding background checks to private gun sales, but reinstating a federal ban on assault weapons seems unlikely. (Getty Images/Marc Piscotty)

Advocacy groups on both sides testified, along with gun industry representatives, gun-violence victims and private citizens. Parents of children killed at Sandy Hook, though joined in mourning, were not always united in their testimony.

“I believe in a few simple gun laws. I think we have more than enough on the books,” said Mark Mattioli, whose son James, 6, was killed.

“That wasn't just a killing. That was a massacre,” said Neil Heslin, who lost his 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis. Heslin told lawmakers that private citizens have no need for assault weapons like the one Lanza used to kill his son.2

But an impassioned Henson Ong, a Waterbury, Conn., resident, said that if Korean shop owners had not armed themselves with semiautomatic weapons with large-capacity magazines during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, many of their stores would have been burned to the ground. “Their's stood because they stood their ground,” said Ong, who told lawmakers he was an immigrant and an American by choice.3

Fresh memories of the Newtown shootings formed the backdrop for the public hearing. Lanza, a withdrawn 20-year-old, shot his way into the school wearing combat gear and armed with two semiautomatic pistols, a Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and numerous large-capacity ammunition magazines, each holding 30 rounds. Lanza used the rifle to shoot his victims, all of them multiple times, in under 10 minutes. The guns were legally owned by his mother, Nancy, whom Lanza had shot dead earlier in the day.

“We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” President Obama said that afternoon.4

After a week-long silence, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), the country's leading gun-rights organization, headquartered in Fairfax, Va., blamed “vicious, violent video games” and lax law enforcement for violent crime.5

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said LaPierre. He called for placing armed security officers — whether police or trained volunteers — at every public school in the nation.6 But according to the Justice Department, nearly half of the nation's public schools already had assigned police officers even before the Newtown massacre. Few reliable studies have been done on their effectiveness.7

Concealed-Carry Laws Sweep Nation  

Unlike other recent mass shootings, which spurred outrage but no federal legislation, Newtown is different, say gun-control advocates. “People are really feeling like they have had enough of this violence and these deaths,” says Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney with the San Francisco-based advocacy group Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Several members of Congress with “A” ratings from the NRA have re-evaluated their positions on gun control. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told a radio host that “everything is on the table.”8 Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said, “there's got to be a way that we can do a bit more.”9

Meanwhile, the NRA continues to oppose all gun-control proposals. The debate has gotten only more heated since mid-January, when Obama unveiled sweeping recommendations from a gun-violence working group headed by Vice President Joseph Biden. Obama called on Congress to mandate universal background checks, ban the sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and stiffen penalties for gun trafficking. Obama also announced 23 more modest executive actions, including launching a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign and improving mental-health care.10

Gun-control advocates uniformly praised Obama's proposals. “It's really unprecedented in its scope and complexity,” said Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington.11 But many Republicans were highly critical of the proposals, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who sent a recorded message to gun owners across his state: “Their efforts to restrict your rights, invading your personal privacy and overstepping their bounds with executive orders, is just plain wrong.”12 The NRA sponsored attack advertisements against the administration's proposals, including one warning of a middle class left defenseless against “madmen, drug cartels and home-invading killers.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing gun-control legislation, and lawmakers in several states have introduced bills to toughen gun laws. At the same time, legislators in two dozen Western and Midwestern states have introduced bills to block enforcement of any forthcoming federal gun control within their borders.

Mass shootings such as Newtown garner national headlines but account for a small fraction of gun violence, much of which is concentrated among inner-city minorities. “In 2012, for the first time, there will probably be more firearm-related homicides and suicides than motor vehicle traffic fatalities,” said Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California Davis Medical Center.13

Nevertheless, the homicide rate in America, while dramatically higher than in many other Western democracies, is falling.14 “We are at a 45-year historic low in terms of our murder rate,” says political scientist Patrick Egan of New York University. Since reaching a peak of 10.2 reported murders per 100,000 people in 1980, the rate steadily declined during the next 20 years, plateaued through 2007, then dropped to 4.7 in 2011.15

About two-thirds of murders are committed with firearms — mostly handguns — and the gun-related homicide rate has dropped as well. Researchers say possible reasons include violence-prevention programs, a decline in the crack-cocaine market, the nation's aging population and the use of community policing, among others. Suicides by gun account for more than half of firearm-related deaths, and that rate also has fallen.16

In addition, individual gun ownership is at or near all-time lows, says Egan. “Back in the 1970s, about one in two households kept a gun, and these days it's more like one in three,” he says, citing data from the University of Chicago's General Social Survey (GSS). Egan attributes the trend to increasing urbanization; an increase in households headed by single women, who are less likely to own guns than men; and a resulting decline in the number of children who inherit the habit of gun ownership from parents.

While fewer individuals own guns today, more guns are in circulation, a trend that accelerated after Newtown, as gun buyers flocked to retailers and gun shows in expectation of future restrictions. “Our best guess is that fewer people are owning more guns,” says Egan.

Americans own about 300 million guns today, up from just under 200 million 20 years ago, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).17

Data on gun violence, ownership and sales have been used to marshal arguments on all sides of the debate. However, such data are often “unreliable” and “inadequate,” and the lack of dependable information severely hampers research, according to a National Academy of Sciences report.18

For instance, how many U.S. households own guns? While the GSS says about one-third, other surveys put it higher. How many guns are in circulation? Because no national gun registry exists, the ATF's 300 million number is only an estimate.

How about the number of stolen guns? “We really don't know,” says economist David Hemenway, director of the Boston-based Harvard Injury Control Research Center. If the aggregate figure is unknown, researchers certainly can't know “the who, what, when, where and how,” he says. Since 2004, Congress has restricted the ATF from releasing information from its Firearms Tracing System database. The restriction is known as the “Tiahrt Amendment,” after its principal sponsor, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.

Even FBI crime data can be incomplete because local, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies provide it voluntarily.

The lack of extensive gun-violence research dates to the early 1990s. After two studies funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that a gun in the home is associated with increased risks of homicide and suicide in the home, the NRA pressed a Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 to strip the CDC of the $2.6 million funding for such research. It then succeeded in casting the CDC's gun research as motivated by support for gun restrictions, getting the following sentence into 1997 legislation: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”19

The CDC stopped funding research on gun violence, and other sources have not picked up the slack. As one of his executive actions, Obama has directed the CDC to resume research into causes and prevention of gun violence, saying it is not “advocacy,” and has asked Congress for $10 million in funding.

Against this backdrop, here are some of the questions researchers, gun-rights and gun-control advocates, elected officials and law enforcement are asking:

Would a ban on assault weapons reduce gun violence?

The semiautomatic rifle that Lanza used is one of the most popular rifles in America. But the gun — a civilian version of the military's fully automatic M-16 rifle — also has been the weapon of choice in several other recent rampages. Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, used one to kill two people and wound another before taking his own life in an Oregon shopping mall in December.20 James Holmes, 24, is accused of using one, along with a 12-gauge shotgun, to open fire in a Colorado movie theater last July, killing 12 and wounding 58.21

Anatomy of an AR-15 Rifle  

So-called long guns — shotguns and rifles — are not the only firearms used in mass shootings, defined by the FBI as incidents in which four or more victims are killed. Forty-year-old Wade Michael Page, for example, used a semiautomatic handgun equipped with a 19-round magazine last August to kill six people and wound three at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.22

In January, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

“If 20 dead children in Newtown wasn't a wakeup call that these weapons of war don't belong on our streets, I don't know what is,” she said. A press release from her office claimed that a previous ban, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 in effect until 2004, “was effective at reducing crime and getting these military-style weapons off our streets.”23

The NRA's LaPierre has called Feinstein's proposal “a phony piece of legislation” that is “built on lies” and said the previous ban had no impact on lowering crime.24

Both Feinstein and LaPierre were selectively quoting from a Department of Justice analysis of the 1994 law, which banned the manufacture, transfer and possession of 18 specific models by name and all other semiautomatic firearms that fell under its general definition of assault weapons: those that could accept a detachable magazine and had at least two specified military-style features, such as a bayonet mount, folding rifle stock and a threaded barrel for attaching silencers.25

While the ban was in effect, “the percentage of crime guns that were assault weapons went down by a third or more,” says Christopher Koper, the report's principal investigator and a professor of criminology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. However, prior to the ban assault weapons had been used in only a small fraction of gun crimes — about 2 percent — his study showed.

The law also prohibited large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Many non-banned semiautomatics accept such magazines, and such guns represented up to 26 percent of crime guns prior to the ban.

A newspaper's analysis of Virginia data found a reduction in the number of large-capacity magazines seized by police during the ban.26 But more generally, “we found that it was inconclusive whether the use of large-capacity magazines declined in any real way,” says Koper. “That, of course, has to be linked to the grandfathering provision in the law.”

Indeed, the law had a huge loophole. Any banned magazine or assault weapon manufactured before the law took effect remained legal to own or sell. There were nearly 1.5 million assault weapons privately owned in the United States at the time, along with nearly 25 million guns equipped with large-capacity magazines.27

Did the ban reduce gun crime? “We didn't really expect to see a reduction in the rate of gun crime overall,” Koper says. “People could substitute other guns for the ones that were banned. But by forcing that substitution, we thought it could reduce the number of gunshots and the number of victims.”

But, there was no evidence that it did, Koper says. “However, if the law had been in place longer and we had had a drop in the use of large-capacity magazines, would you then see more of an impact on gun deaths and gun injuries?” he asks.

Feinstein's proposed legislation tries to correct what gun-control advocates believe were the expired law's weaknesses. It would ban 157 specific weapons by name. And it would reduce the number of military-style features that define a semiautomatic weapon as an assault weapon from two to one, making it more difficult for gun manufacturers to make cosmetic changes to elude the ban, as they did under the expired law. As before, large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition would be prohibited.

While the law would exempt assault weapons lawfully possessed at the date of enactment, it would require purchasers of such weapons to undergo a background check, and it would prohibit the sale or transfer of grandfathered large-capacity magazines. In addition, the law would not automatically expire.28

“We are very supportive of the bill,” says Cutilletta of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “The hope is that even the grandfathered weapons and magazines will at least be regulated and their potential damage will be curtailed.”

But gun-rights groups say Feinstein's bill wouldn't reduce gun violence. “There would be instant weapon substitution,” says Alan Gottlieb, executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, a legal-action group in Bellevue, Wash., that promotes gun rights. “A shotgun can do as much damage as a so-called assault weapon.”

Gottlieb says the ban on large-capacity magazines wouldn't reduce gun violence either because someone intent on inflicting mass damage could use many smaller magazines. “It takes a whopping three seconds to change a magazine,” says Gottlieb.

Koper offers this assessment. “In the long run, the bill, if passed, would probably not affect the overall rate of gun crime. But it could result in a small reduction in shootings because you are forcing offenders to substitute less-lethal weapons and magazines. By small, I don't mean trivial.”

The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research also warned of the need to be realistic about the likely impact of any ban, pointing to a study in Jersey City, N.J., that found 10 or more rounds were fired in fewer than 5 percent of gun incidents. Still, the center said, “We have decided to regulate the design of numerous consumer products, such as cribs and small, high-powered magnets, in order to prevent far fewer deaths than could be prevented with a ban of [large-capacity magazines].”29

Types of Firearms  

But gun-rights advocates say Feinstein's law would contradict a 2008 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court struck down the District's handgun ban.30 “The Heller case said that guns that are in common use by law-abiding people are protected by the Second Amendment,” says Virginia attorney Stephen Halbrook, who has successfully argued gun-rights cases before the court. “And the kinds of guns that are being banned are very much in common use.”

“That's a reasonable interpretation of the Heller case,” says Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA School of Law, “yet I think the counterargument is that the Supreme Court might interpret the common-use requirement to only apply when needed for self-defense.” The firearms banned under Feinstein's bill are not self-defense weapons, says Winkler.

Would mandatory background checks of all gun buyers keep guns away from criminals and other dangerous people?

Federal law prohibits possession of firearms by — among others — felons, fugitives, certain categories of domestic-violence offenders, drug addicts and those found mentally incompetent or a danger to themselves or others because of mental illness or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. The 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires gun buyers to submit to background checks — usually taking just a few minutes — but only if purchasing through a federally licensed gun dealer. Private sales — at gun shows, online or person-to person — are exempt, yet they may account for 30 to 40 percent of firearms sales, according to 1994 survey data, the most recent available.31

The proposal to expand background checks to include private firearms sales — a less controversial idea than banning assault weapons or large-capacity magazines — is gathering bipartisan momentum, at least in the Senate. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is a strong supporter, and a diverse group of four senators — including Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a liberal, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, an NRA member and strong conservative, and moderate GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois — has been meeting privately to work out a compromise. “We'll get something, I hope. I'm praying for it,” said Sen. Manchin of West Virginia, one of the participants.32 Sen. Coburn's resistance to requiring private sellers to keep a record of transactions is apparently holding up the compromise.

“Until you close this loophole, you're giving people with a propensity for violence an opportunity to buy guns without any background check,” says Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Washington-based advocacy group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “It makes no sense.”

A survey of state prison inmates convicted of crimes committed with a handgun found that nearly 80 percent said they got their guns from private sources — either friends or families or from street or black-market suppliers. Another 10 percent said they stole their gun; one in 10 said they purchased a gun from a licensed dealer.33

The NRA is opposed to expanding background checks. “Let's be honest, background checks will never be ‘universal’ because criminals will never submit to them,” said LaPierre.34

Everitt calls that response the anarchy argument: “They say that criminals don't obey laws, so why should we have laws?” But that misses the point, he says. “There still would be ways for criminals to get around background checks, but the people who sold them the gun would be held accountable. Now they are not.”

The NRA argument also assumes that criminals are smart, determined and informed, says Philip Cook, a professor of economics and sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “A large percentage of criminals are youthful, not very well educated and very impatient, and even if you put small obstacles in their path that might discourage them from getting guns, it would help.”

Public Backs Most Gun-Control Proposals  

Gun-control advocates say the Brady Act, even with the private-sales exemption, has been effective. “By blocking 2 million attempts to purchase [since 1994], we have placed a barrier,” says Becca Knox, director of research at the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “The estimate is that half of those denials are to felons.”

But a study of the law's first five years, conducted by Cook and Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, a research institute, found “no evidence of a reduction in the homicide rate that could be attributed to Brady.” The researchers compared homicide rates in 32 states directly affected by the Brady Act with the 18 states that already had their own similar laws on the books.

Homicide rates were dropping nationwide before the act was passed, due in part, experts say, to the end of the crack cocaine epidemic, changes in policing and increased imprisonment rates. The trends were remarkably similar in both groups of states, and the researchers found the trends in homicide rates remained remarkably similar after the Brady Act was passed.35

So how do the researchers reconcile the Brady Act's lack of a detectable impact on homicide rates with the millions of people denied handguns through background checks since the act became law? “We did some back-of-the-envelope calculations using what we know about the people who attempt to buy a gun from a dealer even though they are disqualified — how likely they are to go commit homicide,” says Cook. Using data from California and extrapolating nationwide, he estimates that the 60,000 annual denials in the five years he studied would have prevented roughly 40 homicides — or about eight per year.

Cook blames “the private-sale loophole” primarily for the Brady Act's lack of detectable impact on homicide rates. “And we can close that,” he says. In addition, a majority of adults who end up committing a crime with a gun did not fall into any of the categories that would have disqualified them from buying the gun, says Cook. “In Cook County [Ill.] data, only 40 percent of defendants in murder cases were disqualified by having a felony conviction.”

That's why many criminologists want Congress to expand the list of people ineligible to possess a gun to include those convicted of violent misdemeanors, such as misdemeanor assault and battery, which are generally punishable with jail time of up to one year. “The Brady Campaign is in favor of that expansion,” says Knox.

The gap in records that states voluntarily submit to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, particularly mental health records, also prevents the Brady Act from having a more measurable impact on homicide rates. As a result of that gap, buyers who should be disqualified slip through the system, people on all sides of the gun debate agree.

California, Rhode Island and New York have completely closed the background-check loophole, requiring such checks for every gun purchase. (New York just did so in January). Yet Cook says researchers don't know how effective those laws been in stemming gun violence. “There is no money for these evaluations,” says Cook.

In any case, it's not easy to conduct such evaluations because guns flow from states with lax laws to states with strict laws. At gun shows in Reno, Nev., “a third of the cars in the parking lot are from California,” said gun violence expert Wintemute.36

Do state laws allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons make communities safer?

More than 76,000 Ohio residents received licenses to carry concealed weapons last year, the highest number since the state began licensing in 2004, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. Six out of seven were new licenses and the rest renewals. “As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I am pleased to see more Ohioans than ever before are exercising their rights under Ohio's concealed carry law,” DeWine said.37

Over the past 30 years, states have drastically loosened their “right-to-carry” laws, which allow citizens who can legally own firearms to carry concealed weapons in public, often except in parks, schools, government offices, bars and places of worship. For example:

  • Nineteen states prohibited concealed carry in 1981; today none do. (Washington, D.C. does ban it.) In December, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago told Illinois its ban was unconstitutional and gave it until early June to draft a concealed-carry law.

  • In 1981, 28 states had “may-issue” permit laws, which allow officials to grant or deny a concealed-carry permit; today 10 states have such laws.

  • In 1981, two states had “shall-issue” permit legislation, which require officials to issue a concealed-carry permit to anyone meeting minimum qualifications; today, 35 states have such laws.

  • In 1981, only Vermont did not require a gun owner to have a permit to carry a concealed firearm; today Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming require no permit.38

Gun-rights advocates say right-to-carry laws, especially “shall-issue” laws, reduce crime. “The presence of a gun in the hands of good person makes us all safer. It's true. History proves it,” said the NRA's LaPierre.39 He and others argue that not only can gun-carrying individuals ward off attackers, but criminals are deterred because they don't know who does or does not carry a concealed weapon. In most states, the percentage of adults with active concealed-carry permits is in the single digits. For example, in Ohio the figure is 3.2 percent.40

Gun-control advocates could not disagree more. “Carrying guns in public puts American families and communities at risk of more gun deaths and injuries, as opposed to providing greater protection,” says Knox of the Brady Campaign, which opposes shall-issue permit laws.

It's a fierce debate that was turbocharged in 1997, when economist John Lott concluded, based on his analysis of nationwide county data, that right-to-carry laws deter violent crime. The NRA and state legislatures have used Lott's research to justify right-to-carry legislation.

Lott's work triggered a tremendous number of followup studies. “There have been more than two dozen, each claiming to be somewhat superior to the others,” says Harvard's Hemenway. Some researchers lined up with Lott while many others found serious problems with the data and analysis. The National Academy of Sciences' 2004 report found “no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime.”41

One persistent Lott critic, John Donohue of Stanford Law School, revisited the issue in 2010 and concluded, again, that right-to-carry laws do not deter crime. In fact, he said, “aggravated assault rises when [such] laws are adopted.”42

“Screening is very weak, and you have people getting these permits who have some type of criminal record, who have mental health history, a history of drug abuse or a history of domestic violence,” says Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. In addition, “The presence of a gun can turn something that should have been a fistfight into something far more lethal.”

Donohue and fellow researcher Ian Ayres of Yale Law School have said that arming citizens could encourage an “arms race” in which criminals “respond to shall-issue laws by packing more heat and shooting quicker.” And with as many as one million or more guns stolen each year, “putting more guns in the hands of the law-abiding population necessarily means that more guns will end up in the hands of criminals,” they wrote.43

The majority of shall-issue states recognize permits from other states, but most states with may-issue permit laws do not.44 The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in 2011 that would create reciprocity in every state that gives citizens the right to carry concealed weapons.

“It's something that we absolutely oppose,” says Knox. “This would be a race to the bottom. The state with the loosest regulations would be driving who could carry.”

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*Federal and state laws banning semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines and military-style features use the term “assault weapon” to describe such firearms. But gun-rights advocates say only fully automatic firearms, such as machine guns, are true assault weapons.

Background

Early Gun Culture

Gun-control and gun-rights regulations share a long history in the United States. Adult white men in the American colonies had the right to own firearms for hunting and self-defense and, in fact, were required to use them in the service of local militias, often in battles with Native Americans. But the colonies also placed restrictions on gun ownership.

In 1637 about 100 Massachusetts Bay colonists were ordered to surrender their “guns, pistols, swords, powder, shot & match” on suspicion of being heretics, wrote journalist Craig Whitney.45 Maryland barred Roman Catholics from possessing firearms, and Pennsylvania disarmed Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. These were not “criminals or traitors who took up arms on behalf of the British” but “ordinary citizens exercising their fundamental right to freedom of conscience,” wrote UCLA's Winkler.46

Colonies also forbade slaves, free blacks and people of mixed race — who in some states far outnumbered whites — from owning firearms, fearing they might revolt. Combine their numbers with the up to 40 percent of the population who were Loyalists, and the colonies “were perfectly willing to confiscate weapons from anyone deemed untrustworthy — a category so broadly defined that it included a majority of the people,” wrote Winkler.47

After the Revolution, the Founding Fathers addressed gun rights in the Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights attached to the U.S. Constitution in 1791. The amendment reads: “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.” Various states drafted constitutions with similar provisions. Their intended meaning became the subject of debate in the early 19th century as states enacted “the first comprehensive laws prohibiting handguns and other concealed weapons,” according to historian Saul Cornell.48

In 1813, Kentucky and Louisiana became the first states to ban the carrying of concealed weapons. Indiana did so in 1820, followed over the next two decades by Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama.49 The Southern states were responding to the extraordinary violence in the region, where an honor culture meant “that insults could not be safely ignored,” wrote historian Clayton Cramer. “If someone insulted you publicly, or cast doubts about your honor, you challenged them to a duel” or pulled out a gun or Bowie knife to “settle the matter right on the spot.”50

These early gun-control laws spawned legal challenges asserting constitutional rights to bear arms for individual self-defense. Most courts disagreed and upheld the laws, interpreting the right to bear arms as a community duty and not an individual right. However, “a few courts embraced the new ideology of gun rights,” wrote Cornell.51

While some states were tightening gun regulations, “others, such as Mississippi and Connecticut, were writing into their constitutions more robust statements affirming the right of individuals to have weapons for self-defense,” he wrote. At the same time, “Other states rejected the new language and reaffirmed the traditional civic model of the right to bear arms.” For example, Maine's constitution, adopted in 1820, declared that “every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms for the common defense.”52

Federal Gun Control

The NRA was not initially a gun-rights organization. “Dismayed by the lack of marksmanship shown by their troops [during the Civil War], Union veterans Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate formed the National Rifle Association in 1871,” reads the NRA website. Its primary goal would be to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis,” according to Church.53

The NRA held target-shooting competitions and sponsored gun clubs and shooting ranges. Membership swelled between World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945), when the U.S. military gave more than 200,000 surplus rifles to NRA members for free or at government cost.

The NRA also helped write model state gun-control legislation containing some provisions similar to those vehemently opposed by the association today. The Uniform Firearms Act, produced by an American Bar Association commission in 1926, applied mostly to handguns. It recommended that states require individuals to apply for a license to carry a concealed gun in public and that states issue such licenses with discretion. Handgun sellers had to be licensed, keep sales records and forward them to law enforcement officials and refrain from selling guns to those convicted of violent crimes.54

The NRA promoted this model legislation nationwide, and numerous states adopted it in whole or in part. In fact, a 1938 scholarly article concluded: “Today the carrying of concealed pistols is either prohibited absolutely or permitted only with a license in every state but two.”55

Congress came later to gun control. The federal government's first major attempt occurred in the 1930s as Prohibition-era gangsters with compact machine guns outgunned city police, and notorious criminals such as John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Kate “Ma” Barker used guns and cars for crime sprees across state lines.

The National Firearms Act of 1934, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, imposed a $200 tax on the manufacture, sale or transfer of machine guns and “sawed-off” shotguns and rifles with barrels less than 18 inches long. Anyone possessing such guns had to register them with the U.S. Treasury Department. While no one expected criminals to comply, their failure to do so meant that if caught with such a gun, a criminal could be jailed for tax evasion or non-registration, and “the government wouldn't have to prove that the person had killed anyone,” wrote Winkler.56

The Roosevelt administration initially wanted to include handguns in the law, a provision the NRA opposed because it said it would make it difficult for ordinary citizens to defend themselves against criminals. After a massive NRA-organized letter writing campaign, Congress dropped the handgun provision.

The NRA supported the law because it was an “indirect” approach to controlling gun violence. “I think that under the Constitution the United States has no jurisdiction to legislate in a police sense with respect to firearms,” NRA president Karl T. Frederick testified at a 1934 congressional hearing before the law was passed. “I think that is exclusively a matter for state regulation, and I think that the only possible way in which the United States can legislate is through its taxing power, which is an indirect method of approach, through its control over interstate commerce, which was perfectly proper, and through control over importations.”57

Four years later, Congress expanded the federal government's reach, requiring gun sellers to obtain a license from the Internal Revenue Service and prohibiting the sale of guns and ammunition to felons — provisions the NRA supported.

“After this flurry of activity, Congress and the NRA went back to their respective corners and more or less left each other alone,” wrote journalist Osha Gray Davidson. The NRA's “lobbying wing remained incidental to the organization's primary mission of serving hunters and target shooters.”58

Gun Debate

That changed dramatically three decades later. “The 1960s were the turning point for the cultural war over guns as we know it,” wrote Whitney. Rising crime, racial tensions and a loss of public confidence in the police “led millions of Americans to buy weapons for personal protection,” he wrote.

Despite more guns and more homicides, Congress was “reluctant to pass gun laws that would be taken as a threat to the lawful use of weapons by ordinary Americans,” said Whitney.59

Congress took no action on guns after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. But public opinion shifted a few years later, as race riots engulfed the nation's cities and members of the revolutionary Black Panther Party openly — and legally — displayed their guns in public to attract media attention. And after the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy two months apart in 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson pleaded with Congress to pass gun-control legislation “in the name of sanity, in the name of safety and in the name of an aroused nation.”60 In October, he signed into law the Gun Control Act of 1968.

The statute requires all persons manufacturing, importing or selling firearms as a business to be federally licensed; prohibits the interstate sale of firearms through the mail; bans all interstate sales of handguns; lists categories of people to whom firearms may not be sold, including convicted felons and the seriously mentally ill; and requires dealers to maintain records of gun sales.

Franklin Orth, NRA executive vice president — the seat of power at the organization — testified before Congress in favor of the law. “We do not think any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States,” he said.

But a growing number of NRA members were furious at Orth. “Their objections didn't so much stem from opposition to any specific sections of the legislation; it was the concept of gun control itself that they disliked, even hated,” wrote Davidson.61

The 1968 dispute was “the opening volley in what was to become an all-out war, one that would split the gun group wide open over the next decade,” wrote Davidson. The division pitted mostly older members who believed the NRA should focus on teaching gun safety and organizing shooting competitions and hunting clinics against younger members who wanted the NRA to focus on blocking any and all gun-control measures as violations of the Second Amendment. At the organization's 1976 annual meeting in Cincinnati, the young “hard-liners” took control, using parliamentary procedure to shift power from officials to the membership, which then voted out the old guard and voted in the new.

Wayne LaPierre (Getty Images/Mark Wilson)  
Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), has criticized proposed gun-control legislation, although a January Pew Research Center poll shows 85 percent of gun owners support making private gun sales subject to background checks. Only 43 percent of gun owners, however, said they support a ban on assault-style weapons. (Getty Images/Mark Wilson)

“The Cincinnati Revolt (as the episode became known) changed forever the face of the NRA,” according to Davidson. It “became more than a rifle club. It became the Gun Lobby.”62

In 1986, the NRA scored a victory when President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Firearm Owners' Protection Act. It prohibits civilian transfer or possession of machine guns but legalizes shipments of ammunition through the mail; allows gun owners to transport firearms through states where they are banned; prohibits the federal government from maintaining a registry of guns and their owners; and mandates that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) inspect licensed gun dealers for compliance with the 1968 law no more than once a year. The NRA had complained that ATF agents had been harassing dealers.

The pendulum swung the other way under President Bill Clinton. In December 1993 he signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act instituting background checks for gun purchases through licensed dealers. The law was named after Reagan Press Secretary James Brady, who was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981. And in 1994 Clinton signed a measure banning what it defined as assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. The NRA vehemently opposed both laws. After the Brady Act was passed, the NRA told its members that rogue government agents will start to “go house to house, kicking in the law-abiding gun owners' doors.”63

Congress has passed no major gun-control legislation since then. In 2008, the Supreme Court surprised gun-control advocates in its District of Columbia v. Heller ruling, which nullified Washington, D.C.'s ban on handgun ownership by declaring that individuals have a Second Amendment right to possess firearms “for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” But the court made it clear that its opinion did not “cast doubt” on a wide variety of gun-control laws that regulated who could possess firearms, where they could be carried and how they could be sold. The court also recognized limitations on “dangerous and unusual” weapons but did not define them.64

“The court went out of its way to make clear that the right to bear arms can co-exist with gun control,” says Winkler.

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Current Situation

New York Is First

New York has become the first — and so far only — state to pass gun-control legislation since the Newtown shootings. “I'm proud to be a New Yorker because New York is doing something — because we are fighting back,” Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in mid-January as he signed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act, into law.65

The act makes the state's already-strict gun regulations some of the nation's toughest. It broadens the definition of banned assault weapons; requires owners of existing assault weapons, grandfathered under the law, to register them with the New York State Police; reduces the limit on magazine capacity from 10 rounds of ammunition to seven; requires background checks of not only gun purchasers but also ammunition buyers; expands background checks to private sales, except between immediate family members; and establishes tougher penalties for the use of illegal guns.

The legislation won praise from gun-control advocates, including New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said it “protects the Second Amendment rights of people, and at the same time it makes all New Yorkers safer.”66

But 34 of 62 New York counties have passed resolutions demanding that lawmakers repeal the act.67 And a state court has agreed to review whether the new law was rushed through the legislature in violation of the state constitution. “To have Cuomo dictate to the honest gun owners of New York because of the few criminals is criminal in itself,” says Harold “Budd” Schroeder, chairman of the Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE), a volunteer gun-rights organization with 12 chapters across the state.

In addition, “the law is unworkable,” says Schroeder. While Feinstein dropped from her proposed federal assault-weapons ban a requirement that owners of grandfathered weapons register their guns, New York state's law kept a registration provision. “If you don't require registration, someone could say that they had the gun when the ban went into effect, and there is no way to prove that they didn't. It's an enforcement tool,” says Cutilletta of the Law Center to Prevent Violence.

Schroeder, like the NRA, calls registration the first step toward firearms confiscation. However, seven states and Washington, D.C., require registration of some or all firearms and “no guns have been confiscated,” says Cutilletta. “It's either paranoia or it's a political argument to try to scare people.”

Nevertheless, a civil disobedience movement is brewing. “The sense I get from all the gun owners I have been talking to is that the [New York] law says register your long guns — and that is not going to happen,” says Schroeder. According to the New York Post, gun-club leaders, gun dealers and Second Amendment advocacy groups are organizing a registration boycott. While the boycott's size won't be known until the registration deadline of April 15, 2014, the state expects “widespread violations,” an unnamed Cuomo-administration source told the newspaper. “Many of these assault-rifle owners aren't going to register; we realize that,” the source said. Failing to register is a class-A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison.68

More State Action

Currently, few states have strict gun-control measures on the books. Six states and Washington, D.C., require universal background checks — for private firearm sales and sales through licensed dealers — but in some states the requirements don't apply to all types of guns. Four states require licenses for anyone buying or owning any firearm, while seven states require only handgun buyers and owners to be licensed. Seven states and Washington, D.C., ban variously defined assault weapons, while six of those states also ban large-capacity ammunition magazines.69

But by the first week of March, 1,159 firearms-related bills had been introduced in state legislatures, 308 more than during the same period in 2012, according to Cutilletta. Slightly more than half of this year's proposals would expand gun controls. Some would for the first time ban assault weapons or limit magazine size, such as proposals in Vermont, South Carolina and Virginia; others would tighten existing bans, as New York did. Several would require background checks on private firearms sales, such as a measure introduced in New Mexico.

“Regulating ammunition sales is also popular,” says Cutilletta, “like banning Internet sales or mail-order sales of ammunition or requiring a background check before buying ammunition — that's been introduced in California.” Gun safety also is being addressed; laws that would regulate the way guns are stored have been introduced in Montana, Nebraska, California, Missouri and South Carolina.

Perhaps no state is being watched more closely by both sides of the gun debate than Colorado, a historically pro-gun state and home to two of the nation's most notorious mass shootings: the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and last year's killing spree at an Aurora movie theater.70 In late February, the state's Democratic-controlled House approved a package of bills that would require background checks for all gun transactions, paid for by the purchaser; ban ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds; and allow colleges to ban concealed weapons on campus. No Republicans voted for the bills, and several Democrats crossed party lines to vote against them.

“This is part of our heritage,” Democratic Rep. Ed Vigil said during the debate, explaining why he opposed the measures. “This is part of what it took to settle this land. I cannot turn my back on that.” The bills have moved to the state Senate, where Democratic control is much slimmer.71

State Gun Laws Vary Widely  

Meanwhile, pressure is building on Connecticut's elected officials to strengthen the state's gun-control laws in the wake of the Newtown shootings. A bipartisan legislative task force has missed a self-imposed deadline to recommend consensus gun-control measures, and a separate task force appointed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not expected to produce its recommendation until later this month.

“The public is demanding they act,” said Scott McLean, an analyst with the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn. In mid-February, 5,500 people rallied for gun control at the statehouse. Soon after, Malloy announced his own proposals — expanded background checks, lower magazine limits and a broader definition of assault weapons — and vowed to push his plan through the legislature. “I think it's time to lay it out on the table and get it done,” Malloy said.72

Nullification

Just under half of the firearm-related measures introduced in states this year would loosen gun controls. Some would allow guns to be carried in public schools, and others attempt to nullify new, and in some cases existing, federal gun-control laws. For instance, Alaska Republican state Rep. Michael Kelly has proposed the Alaska Firearm Freedom Act, which would make it illegal for federal agents to enforce new gun-control legislation on Alaskan soil. Similar legislation has been introduced in 23 other states. In two — Montana and Wyoming — such bills have passed the House, and a nullification measure has passed the Senate in Kentucky.73

These bills are being promoted by a national states'-rights group called the Tenth Amendment Center, which argues that states do not have to enforce laws they believe are unconstitutional.Footnote * But the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected state nullification laws. “The states can't simply choose to defy and override a valid federal law,” said Allen Rostron, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The U.S. Constitution deems federal statutes “the supreme law of the land,” he said.74

Liability Insurance

In at least six states legislators have proposed bills requiring gun owners to purchase liability insurance. Backers hope insurers would reward safe behavior — such as having a trigger lock — with lower premiums, according to The New York Times. “I believe that if we get the private sector and insurance companies involved in gun safety, we can help prevent a number of gun tragedies every year,” said David P. Linsky, a Democratic state representative in Massachusetts. “Insurance companies are very good at evaluating risk factors and setting their premiums appropriately.”

However, the insurance industry is wary of such proposals, according to the paper, especially if they require coverage for damages resulting not just from negligence but also from “willful acts,” such as shooting an intruder, which are generally not covered.75

“Insurance will cover you if your home burns down in an electrical fire, but it will not cover you if you burn down your own house, and you cannot insure yourself for arson,” said Robert P. Hartwig, president of the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.76

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*The 10th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Outlook

Political Reality

Broad public support exists for certain gun-control measures, and a sharp partisan divide separates the public on others, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Eighty-three percent of Americans support background checks for private and gun-show sales, a position for which there is bipartisan agreement. But only slightly more than half of Americans support proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and those opinions break along party lines.77

Similar thinking is reflected in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, where the gun-control debate is currently centered. “I'm very optimistic about legislation on universal background checks, [because] you see even conservative politicians coming forward and supporting it,” says Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. In fact, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona told NBC's “Meet the Press” on Feb. 17, “I think most of us will be able to support” bipartisan gun-control legislation whose centerpiece is an expansion of background checks.78

Support also is growing in the Senate for increased penalties for illegal gun trafficking and “straw purchases,” in which an individual buys a gun through a licensed dealer and then passes the gun to someone who typically would not pass a background check. The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider bills addressing those issues — plus school-safety measures, universal background checks and an assault-weapons ban — on March 7.

But the chances of Congress banning assault weapons are close to zero, says Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation. “This is not going to go anywhere,” he says. Many political analysts agree chances are slim and doubt that the controversial ban would become part of any gun-control legislation emerging from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As an alternative, Feinstein could offer her legislation banning assault weapons and limiting large-capacity magazines on the floor of the Senate as an amendment. However, “If it's just offered as a floor amendment it's likely to fail, because it's a stand-alone provision and Republicans will filibuster and it will be almost impossible for Democrats to get 60 votes,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.79 (A filibuster is a procedure to delay or block a vote by one or more senators speaking on any topic for as long as they wish. It takes 60 Senators to agree to end a filibuster.)

While Everitt favors a ban on assault weapons, his highest priority is a requirement for universal background checks. “Universal background checks are a staple of any civilized country's gun laws, and one that we've never had on the books and should have been done decades ago in this country,” he says.

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House is waiting to see what the Senate does before it takes up the issue of gun violence. “They feel if we're able to do something, there might be a chance,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy.” “If we're unable, frankly, they're not going to try anything at all. I think that's a political reality.”80

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Pro/Con

Should all gun sales be registered in a national database?

Pro

Garen Wintemute
Baker-Teret Chair in Violence Prevention, University of California, Davis. Written for CQ Researcher, March 2013

An estimated 478,422 firearm-related violent crimes occurred in 2011, including 11,101 homicides. To help prevent such violence, federal statute prohibits felons and certain others from acquiring or possessing firearms. People who acquire firearms from licensed gun dealers and pawnbrokers must provide identification and undergo a background check to verify they can legally own them. The retailer keeps a permanent record of the transaction.

Our current system is plagued by two major shortcomings. First, perhaps 40 percent of all firearm acquisitions, and at least 80 percent of those made with criminal intent, are made from private parties. No identification need be shown, no background check conducted, no record kept.

Second, licensed retailers keep their records to themselves. If a firearm is used in a crime and an effort is made to trace its chain of ownership, the trace ordinarily ends with the first retail purchaser. Yet 85 percent of the time, the criminal who used the firearm is someone else. Without an archive of transactions, the firearm cannot be traced beyond its first purchaser.

Background checks and purchase denials are very effective, reducing by approximately 25 percent the risk of the buyer committing new firearm-related or violent crimes. Six states already require all firearm transfers to be routed through licensed retailers, so background checks are completed and records are kept.

In California, handgun transaction records are archived by the state's Department of Justice; records for rifles and shotguns will be added in January 2014. Comprehensive background-check policies interfere with the criminal acquisition of firearms and disrupt firearm trafficking. In California, traces of a firearm used in a crime end with the most recent purchaser, not the first. Cold cases become hot cases.

The United States should set a single, simple, equitable standard for firearm transfers. It should require all transfers (with certain exceptions for those within a family) to include a background check and a permanent record. The policy should not be limited to acquisitions at gun shows, which account for only a small proportion of private-party firearm transfers. To make it easier for law enforcement to trace firearms used in crimes, retailers should report to the FBI the make, model, caliber and serial number of the firearms they sell; they shouldn't have to report the purchasers, except for the first. Law enforcement can then trace a firearm used in a crime to its most recent transaction and obtain more information from the retailer.

Con

Stephen P. Halbrook
Attorney; Author, The Founders' Second Amendment. Written for CQ Researcher, March 2013

“Your papers are not in order!” It's five years in prison for not registering to exercise a constitutional right. Unthinkable for any other right, but not the “right” to keep and bear arms — just ignore the “shall not be infringed” part of the Second Amendment.

Attorney General Eric Holder proposed that punishment for not registering a firearm in the District of Columbia when he was U.S. attorney there. Sen. Dianne Feinstein demands the registration of millions of “assault weapons,” which means anything she wants it to mean. Right now, in the Southern Border States, anyone buying more than one semiautomatic rifle per week is reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

New York City required registration of hunting rifles and other “long guns” in the 1960s. It later declared them “assault weapons” and sent the police to confiscate them. New York state just passed a law saying countless ordinary rifles have “assault” traits needing registration. California even records purchases of duck-hunting guns and single-shot rifles.

Criminals don't register guns. That's why, even where registration is required, the police don't check registration records before responding to crime scenes. Canada just abolished its billion-dollar gun-registration system because it never solved a single crime.

Germany just implemented a central database of all lawful firearms, a European Union diktat. The German interior minister promised very high security for handling the data, while a skeptic said “everything that is registered can be taken away by the government.” Sound familiar? A year before the Nazis seized power, Germany decreed gun registration, and the Interior Minister warned at the time: “Precautions must be taken that these lists not … fall into the hands of radical elements.” Hitler then used them first to disarm democratic “enemies of the state” and then, in 1938, the Jews during the violent pogrom known as Kristallnacht.

In France, Prime Minister Pierre Laval decreed gun registration. After France fell to Germany in 1940, Laval guided the French police to collaborate with the Nazis, who executed anyone failing to surrender firearms in 24 hours.

Americans were well aware of these events. Just before Pearl Harbor, Congress forbade registration of guns used for sport or self-defense. It did the same in the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 and Brady Act of 1993.

The purpose of registration is confiscation. Until then, the records are fodder for exploitation by hackers and burglars.

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Chronology

 
1920s–1930sStates and Congress pass gun-control legislation.
1926American Bar Association commission, with National Rifle Association (NRA) support, adopts model state legislation regulating the concealed carry and sale of handguns; Pennsylvania is among the first to adopt it.
1934National Firearms Act of 1934 — first federal gun-control law — levies $200 tax on the manufacture or sale of machine guns and “sawed-off” shotguns; owners must register them with the U.S. Treasury Department.
1938National Firearms Act of 1938 requires interstate gun dealers to be licensed and to record sales; prohibits gun sales to convicted felons…. Carrying concealed handguns is either prohibited or permitted only with a license in every state but two.
1960s–1990sDemocratic administrations sign major gun-control legislation into law. Republican President Ronald Reagan promotes gun rights.
1968After the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Gun Control Act of 1968; it prohibits convicted felons, drug users and the seriously mentally ill from buying guns, raises the age to purchase guns from a federally licensed dealer to 21 and expands dealer licensing requirements.
1986Reagan signs Firearm Owners' Protection Act limiting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from inspecting licensed gun dealers more than once a year and forbidding the government from creating a national registry of gun owners.
1990Gun-Free School Zones Act makes it a federal crime to knowingly bring a gun within 1,000 feet of a school or fire a gun within that zone. In 1995 the U.S. Supreme Court rules that punishment of gun possession or use near schools is a state matter.
1993President Bill Clinton signs Brady Handgun Violence Act requiring licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks of buyers; unlicensed private sellers are exempt.
1994Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (often called the “assault weapons ban”) prohibits the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic assault weapons for 10 years; it also bans ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
2000sGun-control advocates face defeats in Congress and Supreme Court, but massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., in December reignites gun-control debate.
2003Congress passes Tiahrt Amendment prohibiting law enforcement from releasing data showing where criminals bought their firearms.
2004“Assault weapons” ban expires.
2005President George W. Bush signs Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act granting gun manufacturers immunity from civil lawsuits involving crimes committed with guns.
2008Supreme Court holds that Americans have an individual right under the Second Amendment to posses firearms for self-defense within the home.
2012Federal appeals court rules that Illinois' ban on concealed carry of firearms is unconstitutional and gives the state until early June to draft a concealed carry law (Dec. 11)…. Adam Lanza kills 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., sparking national outrage and renewing gun-control debate (Dec. 14).
2013President Obama proposes sweeping gun-control legislation…. Congress begins gun-control hearings…. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduces legislation to ban assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines…. New York legislature passes one of the nation's strictest gun-control laws. Thirty-four of 62 New York counties pass resolutions demanding that lawmakers repeal the act; a state court has agreed to review whether the new law was rushed through the legislature in violation of the state constitution.
  

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Short Features

Crucial mental-health and drug-abuse records are not included in the database.

The nation's system for checking the background of gun buyers is supposed to help keep firearms out of the hands of felons, fugitives, drug abusers, people legally determined to be dangerous or incompetent to manage their affairs due to mental illness or those who have been committed to a mental institution, among others. Licensed firearms dealers call or email the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and usually receive an immediate answer about whether to deny or allow a sale.

But the NICS database has serious gaps. Crucial mental-health and drug-abuse records are missing because states are not required to share them with NICS. They do so voluntarily. “Unfortunately, as long as these gaps remain, they are going to be fatal,” says John Feinblatt, chairman of New York-based Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of 800 mayors that issued a recent report on gaps in the background system.

The report points to two mass killers who eluded the background check system:

  • Seung Hui Cho passed several background checks to purchase the guns he used to kill 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech University in 2007, despite a judge's earlier determination that he was mentally ill. Virginia had never entered his mental-health records in the NCIS system.

  • Jared Loughner had a history of drug abuse, according to media accounts, that was never reported to NCIS before he passed background checks to purchase guns he used to kill six people and critically wound 13 others — including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in Tucson in 2011.1

Before the Virginia Tech shootings, only Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut and Georgia required agencies to share relevant mental-health records with NCIS. After the shootings, 19 additional states — including Virginia — adopted such laws.2

The federal government also increased funding to help states with record keeping and reporting after the Virginia Tech shootings.

Since then, the gap has narrowed. From 2004 to 2011, states increased the number of mental-health records available to NICS for background checks by 500 percent. However, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal watchdog agency, “this progress largely reflects the efforts of 12 states.” Most states, the GAO said, “have made little or no progress in providing these records.”3

“Many states are still performing poorly,” says Feinblatt. For instance, 23 have reported fewer than 100 mental-health records to the federal background-check database since its creation in 1999, and 44 states have submitted fewer than 10 records about drug abuse. As a result, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has concluded that millions of records identifying drug abusers and people with serious mental illness are absent from the system.4

But even if the background check system worked perfectly, it would have only a marginal impact on gun violence, says Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University and a leading expert in the causes and control of violence. “It would probably reduce overall gun violence against others by 4 or 5 percent,” says Swanson, because the mentally ill account for a very small fraction of violent crime.

While the mentally ill are responsible for close to 20 percent of mass shootings, said Michael Stone, a New York forensic psychiatrist, “most mass murders are done by working-class men who've been jilted, fired or otherwise humiliated — and who then undergo a crisis of rage and get out one of the 300 million guns in our country and do their thing.”5

In an article earlier this year, Swanson and his colleagues detailed other flaws in assumptions underlying the background-check system.6 For example, the small fraction of the mentally ill who are dangerous often don't seek treatment before doing something harmful, so they would not show up in a background-check database. And even when they do seek help, doctors often can't identify them as dangerous, according to studies. “Psychiatrists are just not very good at predicting who is going to be violent or not,” says Swanson. “It's not much better than chance.”

Despite that record, New York's newest gun-control law requires a doctor, psychologist, registered nurse or licensed clinical social worker who determines that a patient is a danger to himself or others to report that patient to the government. The government may then decide to prevent the person from possessing a firearm or revoke an existing license.7 Under current professional guidelines, only involuntary hospitalizations and direct threats made by patients are required to be reported to state authorities, who then share the information with the federal background-check database, according to The New York Times. 8

Many mental-health professionals oppose this new provision, fearing that people will avoid treatment or not reveal their true thoughts in therapy. “If people with suicidal or homicidal impulses avoid treatment for fear of being reported in this way, they may be more likely to act on those impulses,” said Paul Appelbaum, director of law, ethics and psychiatry at New York's Columbia University Medical Center.9

Some experts say it's debatable whether mental-health professionals will take the reporting requirement seriously, because the law does not hold them liable if the decision to report or not to report a patient to authorities is made — in the statute's wording —“reasonably and in good faith.”10

— Barbara Mantel

[1] “Fatal Gaps,” Mayors Against Illegal Guns, November 2011, p. 2, www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/downloads/pdf/maig_mimeo_revb.pdf.

[2] Ibid., p. 14.

[3] “Sharing Promising Practices and Assessing Incentives Could Better Position Justice to Assist States in Providing Records for Background Checks,” Government Accountability Office, July 2012, p. 9, www.gao.gov/assets/600/592452.pdf.

[4] “Fatal Gaps,” op. cit., p. 3.

[5] Benedict Carey and Anemona Hartocollis, “Warning Signs of Violent Acts Often Unclear,” The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/health/breaking-link-of-violence-and-mental-illness.html?_r=0.

[6] Jeffrey W. Swanson, et al., “Preventing Gun Violence Involving People with Serious Mental Illness,” Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (2013), p. 36.

[7] “Program Bill #1,” New York Legislative Bill Drafting Commission, pp. 19–20, www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/GPB_1_GUNS_BILL_LBD_12007_03_3.pdf.

[8] Carey and Hartocollis, op. cit.

[9] “Experts: Tougher N.Y. gun control law may discourage therapy,” The Associated Press, Jan. 16, 2013, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/15/ny-gun-law-therapy/1836323.

[10] “Program Bill #1,” op. cit., p. 20.

Bibliography

Books

Cornell, Saul , A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America , Oxford University Press, 2006. A constitutional historian examines the origins of the Second Amendment and the ensuing constitutional debate.

Webster, Daniel W., and Jon S. Vernick, eds., Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis , The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013. Leading experts summarize relevant research and recommend policies to reduce gun violence, including expanding background checks to private firearms sales and prohibiting more categories of criminals from possessing firearms.

Whitney, Craig R. , Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment , PublicAffairs, 2012. A journalist explores the history behind today's polarized debate about guns and concludes that both more guns and more gun control would help reduce violence.

Winkler, Adam , Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America , W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2011. An expert in constitutional law examines America's four-century political battle over gun control and the right to bear arms.

Articles

Dicker, Fredric U. , “Hit us with your best shot, Andy!” New York Post, Jan. 21, 2013, www.nypost.com/p/news/local/hit_us_with_your_best_shot_andy_5rxZg0gYBJJhkLBtiTPMfJ. Gun-rights advocates and gun dealers are organizing a boycott of New York's new gun-control law.

Gerth, Joseph , “Mitch McConnell vows to block President Obama's gun control initiatives,” The Courier-Journal, Jan. 20, 2013, www.courier-journal.com/article/20130119/NEWS010605/301190088/Mitch-McConnell-vows-block-President-Obama-s-gun-control-initiatives?nclick_check=1. In a taped call to Kentucky gun owners, the Senate minority leader promises to block the president's gun-control proposals.

Grier, Peter , “Which gun control measures are gaining momentum in Congress?” The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 19, 2013, www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/Decoder-Wire/2013/0219/Which-gun-control-measures-are-gaining-momentum-in-Congress-video. Support in the Senate is growing for expanded background checks, but backing for the more controversial ban on assault weapons is slim.

Redden, Molly , “Meet John Lott, the Man Who Wants to Arm America's Teachers,” The New Republic, Dec. 19, 2012, p. 1, www.newrepublic.com/blog/plank/111263/meet-john-lott-the-man-who-wants-teachers-carry-guns. Economist John Lott argues that carrying concealed weapons makes communities safer.

Roth, Zachary , “Blackout: How the NRA suppressed gun violence research,” MSNBC, Jan. 14, 2013, http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/01/14/blackout-how-the-nra-suppressed-gun-violence-research. In the 1990s, the National Rifle Association helped insert language into federal legislation restricting government-sponsored research on gun violence.

Reports & Studies

“Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” National Research Council of the National Academies, December 2004, www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10881&page=2. A prominent research council finds that reliable data and research on gun violence and gun control are lacking.

“Gun Control: States' Laws and Requirements for Concealed Carry Permits Vary Across the Nation,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 2012, p. 75–76, www.gao.gov/assets/600/592552.pdf. An independent congressional agency evaluates states' concealed-carry laws.

“Guns in Public Places: The Increasing Threat of Hidden Guns in America,” Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, July 1, 2011, http://smartgunlaws.org/guns-in-public-places-the-increasing-threat-of-hidden-guns-in-america. A gun-control advocacy group analyzes states' concealed-carry laws and concludes they lead to increased violence.

Koper, Christopher S. , “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994–2003,” U.S. Department of Justice, June 2004, www.sas.upenn.edu/jerrylee/research/aw_final2004.pdf. A criminology professor finds that the federal ban on assault weapons had a negligible impact on crime.

Webster, Daniel W., et al., “The Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America,” Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, October 2012, p. 10, www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/publications/WhitePaper102512_CGPR.pdf. A group of academic researchers argues for gun-control legislation.

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The Next Step

Assault Weapons

Davis, Janel , “Facts Back Up Support for Ban,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 5, 2013, p. B1. A majority of Americans support President Obama's plan to ban the sale of assault weapons nationwide.

Goode, Erica , “Even Defining ‘Assault Rifles’ Is Complicated,” The New York Times, Jan. 17, 2013, p. A18, www.nytimes.com/2013/01/17/us/even-defining-assault-weapons-is-complicated.html?_r=0. Gun-rights groups and politicians often disagree over what constitutes an assault weapon.

Grier, Peter , “Gun Debate 101: How Would This Assault-Weapons Ban Be Different?” The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 16, 2013. President Obama wants a ban on assault weapons that is tougher than the 1994 law, but many lawmakers don't want to bar a particular class of firearm.

Background Checks

Sargent, Greg , “Gabrielle Giffords' Husband Smacks Down Wayne LaPierre,” The Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2013/01/30/gabrielle-giffords-husband-smacks-down-wayne-lapierre/. The husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — severely injured in a 2011 shooting — says universal background checks would prevent gun crime.

Winkler, Adam , “Who Gets a Gun?” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 15, 2013, p. A21, articles.latimes.com/2013/feb/15/opinion/la-oe-winkler-guns-background-check-20130215. Free universal background checks would help prevent criminals from obtaining guns, says a UCLA law professor.

Conceal-Carry Laws

Sharockman, Aaron , “Florida Leads in Weapons Permits,” Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, Aug. 20, 2012, p. B1, www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/politifact-florida-rick-scott-says-florida-is-no-1-in-concealed-permits/1246687. About one in 17 Florida residents has a concealed-weapons permit, the nation's highest rate.

Wartman, Scott , “Ky. Loosens Concealed Weapons Law,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 11, 2012, p. C1, cincinnati.com/blogs/nkypolitics/2012/06/05/new-law-wont-require-license-for-concealed-weapon-in-home-business/. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky has signed a bill that allows homeowners to carry a concealed weapon on their property without a license.

Whaley, Sean , “Proposal to Allow Guns on Campus,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, Feb. 19, 2013, p. A1, www.lvrj.com/news/bill-would-allow-guns-in-class-not-at-sporting-events-191715421.html?ref=421. A Republican assemblywoman in Nevada has proposed allowing holders of concealed-weapons permits to bring their guns onto state college campuses.

National Rifle Association

Lichtblau, Eric , “N.R.A. Leader, Facing Challenge in Wake of Shooting, Rarely Shies From Fight,” The New York Times, Dec. 21, 2012, p. A29, www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/nyregion/in-wake-of-newtown-shootings-nra-leader-faces-big-challenge.html. NRA President David Keene is widely regarded as one of the most aggressive defenders of gun rights in the organization's history.

Schouten, Fredreka , “Democrats Ready to Challenge NRA's Clout in Gun Debate,” USA Today, Dec. 21, 2012, p. A5, usatoday30.usatoday.com/NEWS/usaedition/2012-12-21-NRA-Congress_ST_U.htm. Experts say the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings could pose one of the biggest challenges ever to the National Rifle Association's clout in the gun debate.

Simkins, Chris , “NRA Flexes Political Muscle in Gun Control Fight,” Voice of America News, Dec. 21, 2012, www.voanews.com/content/nra-flexes-political-muscle-to-fight-gun-control/1570011.html. The National Rifle Association's wide membership base and its ability to raise money for political purposes have made the organization a major political force.

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Contacts

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
1225 Eye St., N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20005
202-289-7319
www.bradycampaign.org
Education and advocacy group that works to pass federal and state laws to reduce gun violence.

Gun Owners of America
800 Forbes Pl., Suite 102, Springfield, VA 22151
703-321-8585
http://gunowners.org
Lobbying organization that works to preserve Second Amendment rights of gun owners.

Harvard Injury Control Research Center
677 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115
617-432-8080
www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc
Academic research center that studies the causes of injury, as well as intervention strategies and policies.

Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research
Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD 21205
410-955-6878
www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research
Academic research center that works to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths.

Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
268 Bush St., #555, San Francisco, CA 94104
415-433-2062
http://smartgunlaws.org
National law center that promotes gun-control legislation and policies.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns
Mayor of New York City, City Hall, 260 Broadway, New York, NY 10007
212-788-2958
www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org
Coalition of 800 mayors supporting policies and laws to keep guns away from criminals.

National Rifle Association of America
11250 Waples Mill Rd., Fairfax, VA 22030
800-672-3888
http://nra.org
Membership organization that promotes gun ownership rights and trains firearm users.

National Shooting Sports Foundation
11 Mile Hill Rd., Newtown, CT 06470
203-426-1320
www.nssf.org
Trade association whose members include firearms manufacturers, distributors, retailers, shooting ranges, clubs and publishers.

Second Amendment Foundation
12500 N.E. 10th Pl., Bellevue, WA 98005
425-454-7012
www.saf.org
Advocacy group that promotes gun ownership rights through education and legal action.

Tenth Amendment Center;
www.tenthamendmentcenter.com
Think tank advocating states' rights and the decentralization of federal government power.

Violence Policy Center
1730 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Suite 1014, Washington, DC 20036
202-822-8200
www.vpc.org
Advocacy and research organization working to reduce gun violence.

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Footnotes

[1] Ray Rivera and Peter Applebome, “Sandy Hook Parents' Testimony to Legislature Reflects Divide on Guns,” The New York Times, Jan. 28, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/nyregion/connecticut-legislature-hearing-on-gun-violence.html.

[2] Mattioli and Heslin quotes are from ibid.

[3] “Gun Violence Prevention Testimony — Henson,” YouTube, Feb. 27, 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJt-yrXKYG4&feature=endscreen.

[4] “President Obama Makes a Statement on the Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut,” The White House, Dec. 14, 2012, www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2012/12/14/president-obama-makes-statement-shooting-newtown-connecticut.

[5] For background, see Sarah Glazer, “Video Games,” CQ Researcher, Nov. 10, 2006, pp. 937–960; updated, Sept. 23, 2011. For background on gun debates, see the following CQ Researchers: Kenneth Jost, “Gun Violence,” May 25, 2007, pp. 457–480; Bob Adams, “Gun Control Debate,” Nov. 12, 2004, pp. 949–972.

[6] National Rifle Association press conference, Dec. 21, 2012, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2012/12/21/nras-wayne-lapierre-put-armed-police-officers-in-every-school/.

[7] Barbara Raymond, “Assigning Police Officers to School,” U.S. Department of Justice, April 2010, pp. 1, 7, www.cops.usdoj.gov/Publications/e041028272-assign-officers-to-schools.pdf.

[8] “The Andrea Tantaros Show,” Jan. 14, 2013, www.trn1.com/tantaros-audio.

[9] “Gun Rights Supporter Sen. Mark Warner Says Tighter Firearms Laws Needed,” “Newshour,” PBS, Dec. 18, 2012, www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec12/warner_12-18.html.

[10] “Now is the Time: Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions,” The White House, Jan. 26, 2013, www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/wh_now_is_the_time_actions.pdf.

[11] Ruby Cramer, “Gun Control Advocates: Obama's Proposals ‘Unprecedented,’” Buzzfeed, Jan. 16, 2013, www.buzzfeed.com/rubycramer/gun-control-advocates-obamas-proposals-unpreced.

[12] Joseph Gerth, “Mitch McConnell vows to block President Obama's gun control initiatives,” The Courier-Journal, Jan. 20, 2013, www.courier-journal.com/article/20130119/NEWS010605/301190088/Mitch-McConnell-vows-block-President-Obama-s-gun-control-initiatives?nclick_check=1.

[13] Garen J. Wintemute, “Tragedy's Legacy,” The New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 31, 2013, p. 397, www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1215491.

[14] Letter, The University of Chicago Crime Lab, Jan. 10, 2013, p. 1, http://crimelab.uchicago.edu/sites/crimelab.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/Biden%20Commission%20letter_20130110_final.pdf.

[15] “Crime in the United States 2011,” Table 1, FBI, www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/table-1; “Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics Data Building Tool,” FBI, www.ucrdatatool.gov/Search/Crime/State/TrendsInOneVar.cfm.

[16] “WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1981–1991,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate9.html; “WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, National and Regional, 1999–2010,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html.

[17] William Krouse, “Gun Control Legislation: Executive Summary,” Congressional Research Service, Nov. 14, 2012, p. 8, www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32842.pdf.

[18] “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” National Research Council of the National Academies, December 2004, p. 3, www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10881&page=2.

[19] Zachary Roth, “Blackout: How the NRA suppressed gun violence research,” MSNBC, Jan. 14, 2013, http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/01/14/blackout-how-the-nra-suppressed-gun-violence-research.

[20] Jordan Yerman, “Jacob Tyler Roberts IDed as Oregon mall shooter: Photos,” examiner.com, Dec. 12, 2012, www.examiner.com/article/jacob-tyler-roberts-ided-as-oregon-mall-shooter-photos.

[21] “Mass Shooting Incidents in America (1984–2012),” Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, www.nycrimecommission.org/initiative1-shootings.php.

[22] Ibid.

[23] “Feinstein Introduces Bill on Assault Weapons, High-Capacity Magazines,” The Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate, Jan. 24, 2013, www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=5dffbf07-d8e5-42aa-9f22-0743368dd754.

[24] Eric Lichtblau, “N.R.A. Leaders Stand Firm Against Gun Restrictions,” The New York Times, Dec. 23, 2012, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/n-r-a-leaders-defiant-in-television-appearances; “Wayne LaPierre Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee,” National Rifle Association, Jan. 31, 2013, http://home.nra.org/classic.aspx/blog/350.

[25] Christopher S. Koper, “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994–2003,” U.S. Department of Justice, June 2004, p. 1, www.sas.upenn.edu/jerrylee/research/aw_final2004.pdf.

[26] David S. Fallis and James V. Grimaldi, “In Virginia, high-yield clip seizures rise,” The Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2011, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/22/AR2011012204046.html.

[27] Koper, op. cit.

[28] “Assault Weapons Ban of 2013,” The Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate, Jan. 24, 2013, www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/assault-weapons-ban-summary.

[29] Daniel W. Webster, et al., “The Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America,” Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, October 2012, p. 10, www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/publications/WhitePaper102512_CGPR.pdf.

[30] For background see Kenneth Jost, “Gun Rights Debates,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 31, 2008, pp. 889–912; updated July 22, 2010.

[31] Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, “Guns in America: Results of a Comprehensive National Survey on Firearms Ownership and Use,” Police Foundation, 1996, p. 27, www.policefoundation.org/content/guns-america.

[32] “Keystone of Obama gun control plan gains steam as Dem, GOP senators seek background check pact,” The Associated Press (The Washington Post), Feb. 8, 2013.

[33] Daniel W. Webster, et al., “Preventing the Diversion of Guns to Criminals through Effective Firearm Sales Laws,” Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (2013), p. 110.

[34] “Wayne LaPierre Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee,” op. cit.

[35] Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, “The Limited Impact of the Brady Act: Evaluation and Implications,” Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (2013), pp. 22–25.

[36] Wintemute, op. cit., p. 398.

[37] “Attorney General's Concealed Carry Report Shows Record Number of Licenses Issued in 2012,” press release, Office of Ohio Attorney General, Feb. 27, 2013, www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Media/News-Releases/February-2013/Attorney-General's-Concealed-Carry-Report-Shows-Re.

[38] “Guns in Public Places: The Increasing Threat of Hidden Guns in America,” Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence,” July 1, 2011, http://smartgunlaws.org/guns-in-public-places-the-increasing-threat-of-hidden-guns-in-america.

[39] “NRA EVP and CEO Wayne LaPierre — Speech to CPAC 2011,” YouTube, Feb. 10, 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg_uy9_2a1U.

[40] “Gun Control: States' Laws and Requirements for Concealed Carry Permits Vary across the Nation,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 2012, pp. 75–76, www.gao.gov/assets/600/592552.pdf.

[41] “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” op. cit.

[42] Abhay Aneja, John J. Donohue III and Alexandria Zhang, “The Impact of Right-To-Carry Laws and the NRC Report: Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy,” Social Sciences Research Network, June 29, 2010, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1632599.

[43] Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III, “Shooting Down the ‘More Guns, Less Crime’ Hypothesis,” Stanford Law Review, April 2003, pp. 1204–1205, http://islandia.law.yale.edu/ayers/Ayres_Donohue_article.pdf.

[44] “Gun Control: States' Laws and Requirements for Concealed Carry Permits Vary across the Nation,” op. cit., p. 19.

[45] Craig R. Whitney, Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment (2012), pp. 45–47.

[46] Adam Winkler, Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America (2011), p. 116.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Saul Cornell, A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America (2006), p. 4.

[49] Clayton E. Cramer, Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform (1999), pp. 2–3.

[50] Ibid., pp. 6–7.

[51] Cornell, op. cit., p. 4.

[52] Ibid., pp. 142–143.

[53] “A Brief History of the NRA,” www.nrahq.org/history.asp.

[54] Winkler, op. cit., pp. 208–209.

[55] Sam B. Warner, “The Uniform Pistol Act,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, November-December 1938, p. 530.

[56] Winkler, op. cit., pp. 203–204.

[57] “Hearings Before the Committee on Ways and Means,” House of Representatives, Seventy-third Congress, on H.R. 9066, April and May 1934, p. 53, www.keepandbeararms.com/nra/nfa.htm#KarlT.

[58] Osha Gray Davidson, Under Fire: the NRA & the Battle for Gun Control (1993), p. 29.

[59] Whitney, op. cit., p. 3.

[60] Ibid., pp. 5–6.

[61] Davidson, op. cit., p. 30.

[62] Ibid., pp. 30–31, 36.

[63] Winkler, op. cit., pp. 71–72.

[64] “Personal Guns and the Second Amendment,” The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/opinion/the-gun-challenge-second-amendment.html.

[65] Thomas Kaplan, “Sweeping Limits on Guns Become Law in New York,” The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/nyregion/tougher-gun-law-in-new-york.html.

[66] Ibid.

[67] “Documenting County and Town resolutions on the NY SAFE act,” NY SAFE Resolutions, www.nysaferesolutions.com.

[68] Fredric U. Dicker, “Hit us with your best shot, Andy!” New York Post, Jan. 21, 2013, www.nypost.com/p/news/local/hit_us_with_your_best_shot_andy_5rxZg0gYBJJhkLBtiTPMfJ.

[69] “Private Sales Policy Summary,” Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, http://smartgunlaws.org/private-sales-policy-summary; “Licensing of Gun Owners and Purchasers Policy Summary,” Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, http://smartgunlaws.org/licensing-of-gun-owners-purchasers-policy-summary; “Summary of State Assault Weapon Laws,” Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, http://smartgunlaws.org/assault-weapons-policy-summary; “Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines Policy Summary,” Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, http://smartgunlaws.org/large-capacity-ammunition-magazines-policy-summary.

[70] For background, see Kathy Koch, “Zero Tolerance,” CQ Researcher, March 10, 2000, pp. 185–208. Also see Kathy Koch, “School Violence,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 9, 1998, pp. 881–904.

[71] Amanda Paulson, “Gun-control bills pass Colorado House: Was Aurora a tipping point?” The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 20, 2013, www.csmonitor.com/USA/2013/0220/Gun-control-bills-pass-Colorado-House-Was-Aurora-a-tipping-point-video.

[72] Laura Nahmias, “Malloy Charts New Course on Gun Laws,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324048904578316573460812236.html.

[73] “2nd Amendment Preservation Act: 2013 Legislation,” Tenth Amendment Center, http://tracking.tenthamendmentcenter.com/2ndamendment.

[74] John Hancock and Brad Cooper, “Legislators in Missouri, Kansas and elsewhere look to nullify federal laws,” The Kansas City Star, Jan. 23, 2013, http://midwestdemocracy.com/articles/states-looking-to-nullify-the-feds.

[75] Michael Cooper and Mary Williams Walsh, “Buying a Gun? States Consider Insurance Rule,” The New York Times, Feb. 21, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/us/in-gun-debate-a-bigger-role-seen-for-insurers.html.

[77] “Gun Control: Key Data Points from Pew Research,” Pew Research Center, Feb. 7, 2013, www.pewresearch.org/2013/02/07/gun-control-key-data-points-from-pew-research.

[78] Peter Grier, “Which gun control measures are gaining momentum in Congress?” The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 19, 2013, www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/Decoder-Wire/2013/0219/Which-gun-control-measures-are-gaining-momentum-in-Congress-video.

[79] Alexander Bolton, “Senate Dems face gun-control dilemma,” The Hill, Feb. 6, 2013, http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/281343-senate-democrats-face-gun-dilemma.

[80] Grier, op. cit.

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About the Author

Barbara Mantel, author of this week's edition of CQ Researcher  

Barbara Mantel is a freelance writer in New York City. She is a 2012 Kiplinger Fellow and has won several journalism awards, including the National Press Club's Best Consumer Journalism Award and the Front Page Award from the Newswomen's Club of New York for her Nov. 1, 2009, CQ Global Researcher report “Terrorism and the Internet.” She holds a B.A. in history and economics from the University of Virginia and an M.A. in economics from Northwestern University.

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Document APA Citation
Mantel, B. (2013, March 8). Gun control. CQ Researcher, 23, 233-256. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/
Document ID: cqresrre2013030800
Document URL: http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2013030800
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