Some U.S. states and localities have enacted strict licensing and other control measures, and federal legislation (1968) prohibited the sale of rifles by mail. Gun control has continued to be widely debated, however, and has often been opposed, notably by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Increasing gun-related crimes together with citizen pressure propelled congressional passage (1993) of the "Brady bill" (named for James Brady, the press secretary seriously wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan) after years of controversy. It required a minimum of a five-day waiting period and background check before a handgun purchase. Parts of the bill were challenged in court and in 1997 the Supreme Court invalidated its background-check provision. The 1994 Crime Bill outlawed the manufacture, sale, and possession of military-style assault weapons, but it expired in 2004. In 1999, following a rash of shootings at U.S. schools, further gun-control legislation was passed by the Senate but was voted down by the House of Representatives. Attempts by localities (through legislation) and individuals (through lawsuits) to pursue gun control through the courts by permitting or bringing negligence suits against a gun manufacturer or dealer when a weapon it made or sold is used in a crime led many states and, in 2005, Congress to pass laws limiting such suits.
A person who is under indictment or information for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year cannot lawfully receive a firearm. Such person may continue to lawfully possess firearms obtained prior to the indictment or information.
The Gun Control Act mandated the licensing of individuals and companies engaged in the business of selling firearms. This provision effectively prohibited the direct mail order of firearms (except antique firearms) by consumers and mandated that anyone who wants to buy a gun from a source other than a private individual must do so through a federally licensed firearms dealer. The Act also banned unlicensed individuals from acquiring handguns outside their state of residence. The interstate purchase of long guns (rifles and shotguns) was not impeded by the act so long as the seller is federally licensed and such a sale is allowed by both the state of purchase and the state of residence.
Private sales between residents of two different states are also prohibited without going through a licensed dealer, except for the case of a buyer holding a Curio & Relic license purchasing a firearm that qualifies as a curio or relic.
Private sales between unlicensed individuals who are residents of the same state are allowed under federal law so long as such transfers do not violate the other existing federal and state laws. While current law mandates that a background check be performed if the seller has a federal firearms license, private parties living in the same state are not required to perform such checks under federal law. State laws however can prohibit such sales.
A person who does not have a Federal Firearms License may not be in the business of buying or selling firearms. Individuals buying and selling firearms without a federal license must be doing so from their own personal collection.
The Gun Control Act forbids sales of all firearms by federally licensed dealers to persons under the age of 18, and sales of handguns by federally licensed dealers to persons under the age of 21.
The GCA created what is commonly known as the "sporting purposes" standard for all imported firearms, declaring that they must "be generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes." As interpreted by BATFE, "sporting purposes" includes only hunting and organized competitive target shooting, but does not include "plinking" or "practical shooting". Hence, foreign made machine guns and sub-machine guns such as the AK-47, the FN-FAL or the H&K MP5 could no longer be imported into the United States for civilian ownership (however, semi-automatic models of the same weapons were and are permitted). The gun rights advocacy group Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership has claimed that the GCA too closely resembles the German Weapons Law altered in 1938 by Nazi Germany. The Gun Control Act is alleged to show several similarities with the Nazi-era law, including the concepts of 'sporting use' and 'prohibited persons'.