14 Crucial Moments in U.S. Gun Control History


With gun control being a hot topic nationally — especially hammered home in President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address — it would be helpful to all involved in this debate to be familiar with the history of gun control in United States.

The idea here is that we can all use this as a basis of knowledge to further the current debate whether you are for or against the current gun control measures being offered by our legislators. Below you'll find a list of the more notable gun control legislation and Supreme Court decisions as well as links to expand on the information presented here.

1775 - Battle of Lexington and Concord

Initially, Britain's General Gage set out to capture colonial leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock, but they also set out to seize a store of gunpowder from colonials. This move, though unsuccessful, sparked America's Revolutionary War.

1787 - The Bill of Rights (Second Amendment)

Fresh off of gaining their independence from Britain, the individual states were worried about a tyrannical central government that would grow too powerful. The first 10 Amendments, or Bill or Rights, were added to the Constitution to allay those fears of which the "right to keep and bear arms" was included.

Late 1800's - Reconstruction and Jim Crow Laws

After the Civil War, gun laws were enacted in many Southern states that essentially prevented newly freed slaves from possessing firearms. This includes prohibiting cheaper firearms to allowing only certain firearms possession in order to indirectly keep firearms out of the hands of blacks.

1934 - National Firearms Act

Crafted in response to Prohibition era violence, this legislation served to tax and regulate automatic firearms as well as certain firearms components that were commonly used by organized crime at the time.

1938 - Federal Firearms Act

This legislation established Federal Firearms Licensing for dealers as well as introduced record keeping for firearms transactions.

1939 - United States v. Miller

The Supreme Court upheld the National Firearms Act of 1934, but clarified that the Second Amendment applies to the right to bear military arms as well as arms that the military may use. The Court ruled against Miller in this case though citing that a short barreled shotgun could be regulated. It was deemed not useful for military purposes and would fall under the National Firearms Act.

1968 - Gun Control Act

The initial act was a response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The legislation expanded licensing dealers, made it illegal to to mail order long guns, and it also established that convicted felons, drug users, and the mentally ill can be prohibited from possessing firearms.

1986 - Hughes Amendment to the National Firearms Act

This amendment to existing law made it illegal to sell automatic firearms made after May 19, 1986 to civilians. Any automatic firearms already in civilian hands could still be transferred, but would continue to fall under the regulation of the National Firearms Act of 1934.

1990 - Crime Control Act

Among other things this act established gun-free school zones and penalties for those carrying or discharging firearms in these zones.

1993 - Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act 

This established a five day waiting period and mandatory background check for handgun purchases as well as setting up the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) that is used today for every purchase performed through an FFL dealer.

1994 - Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

Also referred to as the "Assault Weapons Ban" this act served to ban specific semiautomatic firearms and other firearms based on outward appearance rather than functional characteristics. This legislation expired in 2004 and studies have concluded that it was ineffective.

2007 - NICS Imporvement Act

This was passed in response to the Virginia Tech shooting. The purpose was to expand funding for NICS and to encourage states to submit mental health records to the NICS index. So far, NICS has been underfunded, receiving less than 6% of the alotted funding in the past few years, and a vast majority of the states have not been sufficiently providing mental health records.

2008 - District of Columbia v. Heller

The Supreme Court struck down D.C.'s handgun ban, and upheld the the individual right to bear arms, and clarified that it extends to arms that are in "common use at the time" but did not cover "dangerous and unusual weapons."

2010 - McDonald v. Chicago

The Supreme Court struck down Chicago's handgun ban as unconstitutional, further building off of the Heller decision and extended the Second Amendment to individual states.