The History and Future of Gun Laws
Written by Brandon Garrett
Brought to you by The Pirates Republic and
The Pirates Ready Store
Gun laws have been some of the most debated issues in the history of the United States. The debate has been the balance between an individual’s right to bear arms and the government’s responsibility to prevent crime.
With the increased national debate on gun laws in recent history, we’ve had a lot of questions about the future of gun laws and how they might affect our customers and their emergency preparedness plans. That’s why we decided that it would be interesting to see where we’ve been – which might help us understand what the future might hold with gun laws.
While some hold that guns promote danger, others say they are necessary for protection and preparedness. Some key laws and acts have shaped the nation’s existing landscape of gun laws. Understanding our history helps us know where we currently stand with gun laws and what the future might hold. So, what are the gun laws? Take a look at some of the significant events below:
1689 Many people trace America’s Second Amendment to the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The bill stated that it was a given right of Englishmen to protect themselves and to have arms “in their defence, suitable to their condition, and degree, and such as are allowed by law.”
1774 Leading up to the Revolutionary War, the British responded to American’s increasing hostility by enacting a ban on the import of firearms and gunpowder. They even confiscated firearms in an effort to prevent an eventual uprising. This crystallized into the ideas of self-defense that eventually formed the Second Amendment.
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. (You can read this article to see what points were debated and changed during the ratification process.)
1822 While the idea of the Second Amendment was still fresh in our country. A trial in Kentucky would shed further light on the subject. In Bliss v. Commonwealth, the courts struck down a Kentucky law which made it illegal for someone to carry a concealed weapon (a sword cane in this case). The ruling was unique in that it gave a broader reach to the definition of “arms.”
1840 In Arkansas, the circuit court upheld a state ban on concealed weapons (State v. Buzzard). A Tennessee district court also hands down a decision upholding the state’s law prohibiting concealed weapons. (Aymette v. State)
1856 One of the early battles with gun laws was whether or not slaves could possess guns. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court ruled that “It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union … the full liberty … to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”
1875 In United States v Cruikshank, the Supreme Court clarified a section of the Second Amendment stating that the amendment “was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens” and “has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government.”
1894 In Miller v Texas, Franklin Miller was convicted for shooting a police officer with an unlicensed handgun. He sought for the conviction to be overturned based on the fact that he believed the Texas law banning unlicensed handguns was against his Second Amendment right. The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that the Second Amendment did not apply to state laws such as the one in question.
1897 In a case that challenged the legality of state’s requiring permits for concealed weapons, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment doesn’t limit the freedom to bear arms. “The freedom of speech and of the press does not permit the publication of libel, blasphemous or indecent articles … the right of the people to bear arms is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons.” (You can read the full text of Robertson v. Baldwin here.)
1911 New York passes a law making it illegal to carry a handgun without a permit. The Sullivan Law prompts the National Rifle Association (NRA), which up to this point had just been a hobbyist and sportsmen’s club, to enter the political arena. Gun laws were placed on the backburner with the beginning of the First World War.
1934 The National Firearms Act passed in response to gangster culture during Prohibition. The law implemented a $200 tax on the making and transfer of automatic-fire guns, shotguns and rifles. The Act required a lot of paperwork to be filled out and be submitted to the Treasury Department.
1938 The Federal Firearms Act is passed by Congress. Congress aimed to limit the selling and shipping of firearms through interstate or foreign channels. Anyone involved in those type of sales was required to obtain a license from the Secretary of Commerce. They were also required to record the names and addresses of anyone they sold guns or pistols to.
1939 A ban on sawed-off shotguns is brought before The Supreme Court. The Court upholds the ban. In their decision, the Court implied that the Founding Fathers adopted the amendment to ensure the then-new federal government could not disarm state militias. (Read the United States. v Miller ruling here.)
1963 While gun laws had taken a backseat during WWII and the Cold War, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy brought it back to the forefront. Within a week of his death, nearly a dozen firearm bills are introduced.
1968 After the assassination of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., Congress passed the Gun Control Act. The law calls for better control of interstate traffic of firearms. Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot the president, used a mail-order gun.
1972 The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Tax is changed to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. The bureau is put in charge of the enforcement of the Gun Control Act and nearly doubles in size.
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.
1990 The Crime Control Act directed the Attorney General to establish drug-free and gun-free zones around schools. The changes made it a crime to possess or discharge a firearm in a school zone. It also outlawed the illegal assemble of semiautomatic rifles or shotguns from legally imported parts. Many states, including California, bag the sale of firearms that have been defined as “assault weapons.”
1993 Congress passed the the Brady Handgun Violence Act, establishing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System gun dealers are to use before selling guns or pistols. The law is named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot 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 new semiautomatic weapons, including AK-47s and Uzis. The law expired in 2004.
2008 In District of Columbia v. Heller, The Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling, striking down D.C. handgun ban as unconstitutional. The District had passed a law in 1976 which outlawed the ownership of a handgun.
Current Debate & Future Currently, many points are being debated including whether semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity clips should be banned. Some are arguing whether more legislation is needed to moderate the buying and tracking process – concealed carry weapons (CCW), mental health records in background checks, etc.
The current debate funnels down to how to reduce gun-related violence. While one side debates that a culture with prevalent guns promotes increased violence, others argue that violence will be stifled when more of the population owns a gun.
What do you think the future of gun laws hold? Comment below and let us know.
Updated January 13, 2013