U.S. Gun Laws: A History

The Supreme Court's decision on the right to bear arms is the latest milestone in the long history of U.S. gun legislation. The following is a selected timeline.

1791: The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. 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."

1871: The National Rifle Association was formed by Union Army veterans Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate.

1934: The National Firearms Act passes in response to gangster culture during Prohibition. The law implements a tax on the making and transfer of automatic-fire guns, shotguns and rifles.

1939: Supreme Court upholds a federal ban on sawed-off shotguns, implying that the Founding Fathers adopted the amendment to ensure the then-new federal government could not disarm state militias.

1968: Congress passes the Gun Control Act. The law calls for better control of interstate traffic of firearms. Lee Harvey Oswald used a mail-order gun to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

1976 D.C. City Council bars residents from owning handguns.

1986: The Firearm Owner's Protection Act is approved by Congress. The law prohibits felons from owning or possessing guns or ammunition. The Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act is also passed. It prohibits the manufacturing, importing and selling of ammunition that can penetrate a bulletproof vest.

1993: Congress passes the The Brady Handgun Violence Act, establishing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System gun dealers are to use before selling a gun. The law is named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot in the head during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act becomes law. The law banned the manufacture, use, possession and import of 19 types of assault weapons, including AK-47s and Uzis. The law expired in 2004.

2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rules in favor of Dick Anthony Heller, 66, an armed security guard who sues the district after it rejects his application to keep a handgun at his home in Capitol Hill. District appeals to Supreme Court.

June 2008: The Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling, striking down D.C. handgun ban as unconstitutional.

From NPR research and the Associated Press

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