Political scientists have identified eight significant policy relationships of gun politics in the United States:
The history of enactment of gun regulation legislation is characterized by repetitive cycles of popular outrage, action and reaction usually in response to sensational shootings. The first modern gun regulation, the 1911 Sullivan Act in New York State, emerged in reaction to an attempt to murder New York City Mayor William Jay Gaynor. The shooting deaths of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. led to public outrage and political action with enactment of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. Supporters of individual gun rights, often spearheaded by the National Rifle Association, have resisted additional regulation efforts as they believed existing laws had already addressed the concerns regarding illegal acts committed with guns. This outrage-action-reaction cyclical pattern reflects an essential core value conflict at the center of the gun politics issue.
This viewpoint has the least support in urban and industrialized regions. A cultural tradition conflating violence and gun ownership with the "redneck" stereotype has negatively affected opinions in such regions.
In 1995, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms estimated that the number of firearms available in the US was 223 million. About 25% of the adults in the United States personally own a gun, the vast majority of them men. And, about half of the adult U.S. population, lived in households with guns. Less than half of gun owners say that the primary reason they own a gun is for self-protection against crime, reflecting a popularity of hunting and sport-shooting among gun owners. As hunting and sport-shooting tends to favor rural areas, naturally the bulk of gun owners generally live in rural areas and small towns. This attribute associates with low involvement in criminal violence, and therefore most guns are in the hands of people who are unlikely to misuse them and who tend to not have criminal records.
Guns are prominent in contemporary U.S. popular culture as well, appearing frequently in movies, television, music, books, and magazines.
The hunting/sporting ethos has come from a time when the United States was an agrarian, subsistence nation where hunting was an auxiliary source of food for some settlers, and also a deterrence to animal predators. A connection between shooting skills and survival among rural American males was a 'rite of passage' for entering manhood. Today, hunting survives as a central sentimental component of the gun culture as a way to control animal populations across the country, regardless of the modern trend away from subsistence hunting and rural living.
The militia/frontier ethos derives from an early American dependence on wits and skill to protect themselves from hostile Native Americans and, rarely, from foreign armies. Survival depended upon everyone being capable of carrying a weapon. In the Eighteenth Century, there was neither budget nor manpower nor government desire to maintain a full time army, believing they were a threat to the rights of the civilian populace. Therefore the armed citizen soldier carried the responsibility. Service in militia, including providing one’s own ammunition and weapons, was mandatory for all adult males. Yet, as early as the 1790s, the mandatory universal militia duty gave way to voluntary militia units and a reliance on a regular army, with a decline of the importance of militia trend continuing throughout the Nineteenth Century.
Closely related to the militia tradition was the frontier tradition, with the westward movement closely associated with weaponry. In the Nineteenth Century firearms were closely associated with the westward expansion. Some historians believe that this perception that guns won the West springs from a mythology, and ignores the role of homesteaders, ranchers, miners, tradespeople and businessmen. In fact the so-called taming of the West was attributable to ranchers and farmers, not gun-slinging cowboys, though it must be noted that ranchers and farmers needed and used guns regularly for hunting and self defense. Regardless, today, there remains a powerful central elevation of the gun associated with the Hunting/Sporting and Militia/Frontier ethos among the American Gun Culture. Though it has not been a necessary part of daily survival for a long time, generations of Americans have continued to embrace and glorify it as a living inheritance—a permanent ingredient of the nation's style and culture.
The gun has long been a symbol of power and masculinity. In popular literature, frontier adventure was most famously told by James Fenimore Cooper, who is credited with creating archetype of the 18th-century frontiersman through such novels as "The Last of the Mohicans" (1826) and "The Deerslayer" (1840).
In the late 1800s, cowboy and Wild West imagery entered the collective imagination. The first American female superstar, Annie Oakley, was a sharpshooter who toured the country starting in 1885, performing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. The cowboy archetype of individualist hero was established largely by Owen Wister in stories and novels, most notably "The Virginian" (1902), following close on the heels of Theodore Roosevelt's "The Winning of the West" (1889-1895), a history of the early frontier. Cowboys were also popularized in turn of the century cinema, notably through such early classics as "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) and "A California Hold Up" (1906)--the most commercially successful film of the pre-nickelodeon era.
Gangsters films began appearing as early as 1912, but became popular only with the advent of sound in film in the 1930s. The genre was boosted by the events of the prohibition era, such as bootlegging and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, the existence of real-life gangsters (e.g., Al Capone) and the rise of contemporary organized crime and escalation of urban violence. These movies flaunted the archetypal exploits of "swaggering, cruel, wily, tough, and law-defying bootleggers and urban gangsters".
With the arrival of World War II, Hollywood produced many morale boosting movies, patriotic rallying cries that affirmed a sense of national purpose. The lone image of the cowboy was replaced in these combat films by stories that emphasized group efforts and the value of individual sacrifices for a larger cause, often featuring a group of men from diverse ethnic backgrounds who were thrown together, tested on the battlefield, and molded into a dedicated fighting unit.
Guns frequently accompanied famous heroes and villains in late 20th century American films, from the outlaws of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Godfather (1972), to the fictitious law and order avengers like Dirty Harry (1971) and Robocop (1987). In the 1970s, films portrayed fictitious and exaggerated madmen ostensibly produced by the Vietnam war in films like Taxi Driver (1976) and Apocalypse Now (1979), while other films told stories of fictitious veterans who were supposedly victims of the war and in need of rehabilitation (Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, both 1978). Many action films continue to celebrate the gun toting hero in fantastical settings. At the same time, the negative role of the gun in fictionalized modern urban violence has been explored in films like Boyz N the Hood (1991) and Menace 2 Society (1993).
The Jacksonian Era lasted roughly from President Andrew Jackson's 1828 election until the slavery issue became dominant after 1850. French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville traveled in America early during this era, and
"according to Tocqueville, a distinguishing characteristic of American society in the 1830s, the era of Jacksonian democracy, was a pervasive spirit of individualism. The French commentator confessed that individualism was a novel term coined to capture a new idea."During this same period, some of the first gun control laws were passed in the United States, and, as a result, the Individual Right interpretation of the Second Amendment began and grew in direct response to these early gun control laws, in keeping with this new "pervasive spirit of individualism". As noted by Cornell, "Ironically, the first gun control movement helped give birth to the first self-conscious gun rights ideology built around a constitutional right of individual self-defense."
The Individual Right interpretation of the Second Amendment first arose in Bliss v. Commonwealth (1822, KY), which evaluated the right to bear arms in defence of themselves and the state pursuant to Section 28 of the Second Constitution of Kentucky (1799). The right to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state was interpreted as an individual right, for the case of a concealed sword cane. This case has been described as about “a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons [that] was violative of the Second Amendment””. As noted in the Northern Kentucky Law Review Second Amendment Symposium: Rights in Conflict in the 1980’s, vol. 10, no. 1, 1982, p. 155, "The first state court decision resulting from the "right to bear arms" issue was Bliss v. Commonwealth. The court held that "the right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State must be preserved entire, ..."" "This holding was unique because it stated that the right to bear arms is absolute and unqualified.
Also during the Jacksonian Era, the first Collective Right interpretation of the Second Amendment arose. In State v. Buzzard (1842, Ark), the Arkansas high court adopted a militia-based, political right, reading of the right to bear arms under state law, and upheld the 21st section of the second article of the Arkansas Constitution that declared, "that the free white men of this State shall have a right to keep and bear arms for their common defense", while rejecting a challenge to a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons. The Arkansas high court declared "That the words "a well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free State", and the words "common defense" clearly show the true intent and meaning of these Constitutions [i.e., Ark. and U.S.] and prove that it is a political and not an individual right, and, of course, that the State, in her legislative capacity, has the right to regulate and control it: This being the case, then the people, neither individually nor collectively, have the right to keep and bear arms." Joel Prentiss Bishop’s influential Commentaries on the Law of Statutory Crimes (1873) took Buzzard's militia-based interpretation, a view that Bishop characterized as the “Arkansas doctrine", as the orthodox view of the right to bear arms in American law.
The two early state court cases, Bliss and Buzzard, largely set the fundamental dichotomy of interpretations of Individual Right versus Collective Right that remain to this day at the heart of gun politics in the United States.
One of the early political battles over the right to firearms involved the rights of slaves to carry firearms in the United States; the battle over the rights of slaves resulted in political battles, and ultimately civil war, in the aftermath of the 1856 Supreme Court decision Dred Scott v. Sandford that denied Negroes the full rights of citizenship. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, (the "Dred Scott Decision"), the Supreme Court indicated 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."
The Dred Scott Decision contains additional significant wording:
When the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted, Representative John A. Bingham of Ohio used the Court's own phrase "privileges and immunities of citizens" to include the first Eight Amendments of the Bill of Rights under its protection and guard these rights against state legislation.
The debate in the Congress on the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War also concentrated on what the Southern States were doing to harm the newly freed slaves. One particular concern was the disarming of former slaves.
The Second Amendment attracted serious judicial attention with the Reconstruction era case of Cruikshank which ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not cause the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment, to limit the powers of the State governments; stating that the Second Amendment "has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government."
Akhil Reed Amar notes in the Yale Law Journal, the basis of Common Law for the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which would include the Second Amendment, "following John Randolph Tucker's famous oral argument in the 1887 Chicago anarchist Haymarket Riot case, Spies v. Illinois":
A famous and widely-publicized case where fully-automatic weapons were used in crime in the United States was during the Saint Valentine's Day massacre during the winter of 1929; this Prohibition-era gangster sub-machine gun mass murder led directly to the National Firearms Act of 1934, which was passed after Prohibition had ended. Since 1934, fully-automatic weapons have been heavily regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), but are available to citizens who are not otherwise prohibited, in those states that do not prohibit them, upon paying a $200 transfer tax, submission of a full set of fingerprints on FBI Form FD-258, certification provided by the local chief of police, sheriff of the county, head of the State police, or State or local district attorney or prosecutor, and approval by the BATF. No other widely-publicized crimes involving fully-automatic weapons in the United States have since occurred. However, the lesser known 1997 North Hollywood shootout involved two men carrying illegally-modified automatic AKMs.
In the latter half of the 20th Century, groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Gun Owners of America (GOA) organized voters and campaign volunteers to focus citizen communication and interest when gun control legislation was under consideration, both at federal and at state levels.
The United States had the least restrictive gun control laws in the developed world in part due to the strength of the gun lobby, particularly the NRA. The NRA historically supported gun laws intended to prevent criminals from obtaining firearms, while opposing new restrictions that affected law-abiding citizens.
The GOA grew out of dissatisfaction with the NRA, and historically rejected any gun laws that infringed the rights of law-abiding citizens, putting it at odds with the NRA on many legislative issues.
Besides the GOA, other national gun rights groups often took a stronger stance than the NRA. These groups criticize the NRA's history of support for some gun control legislation, such as the Gun Control Act of 1968, the ban on armor-piercing projectiles, point-of-purchase background checks (NICS). Some of these groups are The Second Amendment Sisters, Second Amendment Foundation, and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. These groups, like the GOA, believe any compromise leads to incrementally greater restrictions.
Handgun Control Inc. (HCI), was founded in 1974 by businessman Pete Shields, formed a partnership with the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (NCBH), also founded in 1974. Soon parting ways, the NCBH was renamed the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in 1990, and while smaller than HCI, generally took a tougher stand on gun regulation than HCI.
HCI saw an increase of interest and fund raising in the wake of the 1980 murder of John Lennon. By 1981 membership exceeded 100,000. Measured in dollars contributed to congressional campaigns, HCI contributed $75,000. Following the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, and the resultant injury of James Brady, Sarah Brady joined the board of HCI in 1985. HCI was renamed in 2001 to Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
In the 1990s, gun politics took a turn to the right in response to two high profile ATF incidents, Waco and Ruby Ridge, that led to mobilization of modern militia groups. These incidents combined with the passage of the Brady Act in 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban a year later increased the fears of those who felt the Federal Government would confiscate their firearms. The Militia Movement expanded throughout the 1990s.
The NRA opposed bans on handguns in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, while also supporting the 2007 NICS Improvement Amendments Act (H.R. 2640), which strengthened requirements for background checks for firearm purchases.
The GOA especially took issue with the NRA over a portion of the 2007 "The School Safety And Law Enforcement Improvement Act" known as The NICS Improvement Amendments Act, which they termed the "Veteran's Disarmament Act".
Besides the GOA, other national gun rights groups continue to take a stronger stance than the NRA. Groups such as The Second Amendment Sisters, Second Amendment Foundation, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, and the Pink Pistols continue much as they did in the late 20th Century, but new groups have also arisen, such as the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which grew largely out of perceived safety-issues with so-called 'Gun-free' zones that are legislatively-mandated at many schools, amidst a response to widely-publicized school shootings.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290, the United States Supreme Court held that Americans have an individual right under the Second Amendment to possess handguns in the home for self-defense. It is an appeal from Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F.3d 370 (D.C. Cir. 2007), a decision in which the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit became the first federal appeals court in the United States to rule that a firearm ban unconstitutionally infringes the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the second to expressly interpret the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to possess firearms for private use. The first federal case that interpreted the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right was United States v. Emerson, 270 F.3d 203 (5th Cir. 2001).
According to The Center for Public Integrity, 145 groups are registered as making gun-related filings to lobby Congress. The largest being the National Rifle Association, spending about $1.5 million per year, predominantly through two lobbying firms, the WPP Group and The Federalist Group. Ranked by total filings, gun-rights lobbying exceeded gun-control lobbying by the ratio of approximately 3:1.
Measured in dollars, in 2007, gun rights political spending on lobbying totaled $1,959,407 versus gun control spending of $60,800.
Regional differences tend to be greater than partisan ones for gun politics in the United States. Jurisdictions that favor gun control are concentrated along the Eastern Seaboard such as New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Maryland, but also include States with major metropolitan areas, notably California and Illinois. The Northwest, such as Montana, Idaho and Washington; the Deep South, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida; and Southwest States such as Texas, New Mexico and Utah tend to support gun rights. Other areas, including the Midwest and Plains States, are mixed. Alaska and Vermont do not require any license in order to carry concealed weapons in public places, but there are laws in these states prohibiting concealed weapons in certain places (e.g., in Alaska it is not permitted to carry a weapon, concealed or otherwise, into a bar or tavern). The spread of concealed carry laws since 1986 in those states that tend to be in support of gun rights has led to the widespread, legally-permitted, carrying of concealed handguns by civilians in many parts of the United States.
Opinions on gun control can vary within a jurisdiction. Texas for example, though it is stereotypically known as "gun-friendly", encompasses many demographics from small farming/ranching communities to several large cities (including two of the nation's largest), therefore attitudes toward gun possession and carry tend to be mixed. Similar situations can be found in other states, and in general, large urban jurisdictions tend to favor gun control to reduce crime, while rural populations and small towns oppose it for much the same reasons.
While gun control is not strictly a partisan issue, there is more support for increased gun control in the Democratic Party, while the Republican Party favors gun rights. The Libertarian Party, whose campaign platforms favor traditional conservative government and individual rights, is outspokenly pro-gun, and this stance is largely echoed by the Republican Party which often seeks to attract Libertarian votes in national elections.
If sometimes confused in public debate, the two firearm types in the third general category are functionally and legally distinct. Fully-automatic firearms of any kind (including military assault rifles) have been subject to registration and licensing requirements since the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934. Further import restrictions were part of the Gun Control Act of 1968, and the transfer of newly manufactured machine-guns to private citizens was banned with passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act in 1986. New machine-guns in the US are still legal for purchase by the military and by governmental agencies, including civilian law enforcement; pre-1986 registered machine-guns are available to federally licensed private citizens (where permitted by state law), and have reached high market prices, eagerly sought by collectors because of their relative scarcity. An expansion has occurred in the number of states where such automatic weapons may legally be owned; for example, automatic-weapons were recently legalized in Kansas.
Many semi-automatic versions of military assault rifles—and the larger 20- or 30-round magazines they typically use—are again available for purchase by private citizens in the US (except where prohibited by state or municipal bans) since the "sunsetting" of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban on September 14, 2004. Some continue to be banned due to a 1989 amending of the Gun Control Act, which made some foreign-made firearms illegal for importation. However, firearms similar to those affected by the imporation ban can now be manufactured domestically.
In general terms, gun control advocates have paid little concern to the long guns used for sporting purpose as long guns are generally not viewed as associated with violent crime or suicide. For example, in 2005, 75% of the 10,100 homicides committed using firearms in the United States were committed using handguns, compared to 4% with rifles, 5% with shotguns, and the rest with a type of firearm not specified. Non-criminal homicides (i.e., acts of self-defense) and criminal homicides were counted together simply as homicides in these data.
Kruschke describes incidents where public political perceptions have been shaped by a few high profile violent crimes associated with automatic and semi-automatic weapons, resulting in a relatively small percentage of the crime in absolute numbers, none-the-less have brought public focus on that type of weapon.
Kruschke states, however, regarding the fully-automatic firearms owned by private citizens in the United States, that "approximately 175,000 automatic firearms have been licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (the federal agency responsible for administration of the law) and evidence suggests that none of these weapons has ever been used to commit a violent crime."
Likewise, Kruschke states that automatic weapons are different than common semi-automatic hunting weapons, as the "most common examples [of automatic weapons] are machine guns, submachine guns, and certain types of military and police rifles". This recognizes that there are semi-automatic household guns that are in widespread use like the .22 caliber Marlin Model 60 hunting rifle. Similarly, although Kruschke claims long guns are not being used in suicide, there are in fact instances of long guns that are used for suicides. Although Krushke describes that semi-automatic and automatic weapons are associated with military uses, he acknowledges that the US Government distinguishes semi-automatic guns in a different category from fully-automatic guns.
Pro-gun groups claim that confusing voters about different types of guns continues to be a strategy of gun-control groups, who in turn claim that certain types of firearms are either particularly unsafe, particularly likely to be used in crime, or particularly unsuited for "sporting purposes," and therefore should be banned. The types of guns so designated has included: any small, inexpensive handgun ("junk gun" or "Saturday night special), any handgun weighing more than 50 ounces, any handgun not incorporating either new "smart-gun or "micro-stamping abilities, all handguns, semi-automatic "assault weapons" (using either the 1994 definition or a more expansive definition), and .50 caliber rifles.
The current bid to ban .50 caliber rifles nationally shows the typical issues that arise in campaigns to ban certain firearm types. Pro-ban groups have preferred the phrase "Sniper Rifle Ban" to promote the law, even though the .50 caliber rifles are typically considered "counter-sniper" and "anti-matériel" weapons. In fact, the term "sniper rifle" implies a much broader range of rifles: the US M24 and M40 military sniper rifles are bolt-action, .30 caliber weapons with telescopic sights (both models being variants of the civilian Remington Model 700); the "D.C. Snipers" used a .223 semi-automatic rifle; and Charles Whitman, the 1966 "Texas Tower Sniper," used a common scoped hunting rifle (as did many of the private citizens who returned fire that day). Pro-gun groups see the attempts to ban .50-cal rifles as the first step toward banning an ever-expanding "sniper gun" or "high-powered rifle" category. In promoting a California .50 caliber ban, the LAPD received criticism for deceiving the public when a police-owned Barrett M82 was produced for a press conference supporting the ban, while never mentioning that the rifle was already banned by existing state law.
The first category, collectively known as rights-based arguments, consist of Second Amendment arguments, state constitution arguments, right of self-defense arguments, and security against tyranny and invasion arguments. Public policy arguments, the second category of arguments, revolve around the importance of a militia, the reduction of gun violence and firearm deaths, and also can include arguments regarding security against foreign invasions.
"Americans also have a right to defend their homes, and we need not challenge that. Nor does anyone seriously question that the Constitution protects the right of hunters to own and keep sporting guns for hunting game any more than anyone would challenge the right to own and keep fishing rods and other equipment for fishing – or to own automobiles. To "keep and bear arms" for hunting today is essentially a recreational activity and not an imperative of survival, as it was 200 years ago. "Saturday night specials" and machine guns are not recreational weapons and surely are as much in need of regulation as motor vehicles." — Ex-Chief Justice Warren Burger, 1990.Until recently, there had been only one modern Supreme Court case that dealt directly with the Second Amendment, United States v. Miller. In that case, the Supreme Court did not address the incorporation issue, but the case instead hinged on whether a sawed-off shotgun "has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia." In quashing the indictment against Miller, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas stated that the National Firearms Act of 1934, "offend[ed] the inhibition of the Second Amendment to the Constitution." The federal government then appealed directly to the US Supreme Court. On appeal the federal government did not object to Miller's release since he had died by then, seeking only to have the trial judge's ruling on the unconstitutionality of the federal law overturned. Under these circumstances, neither Miller nor his attorney appeared before the US Supreme Court to argue the case. The Court only heard argument from the federal prosecutor. In its ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the trial court and upheld the law. For a more complete reading of this case, see Reynolds, Glenn Harlan and Denning, Brannon P., "Telling Miller's Tale" . 65 Law & Contemp. Probs. 113 (Spring 2002).
On June 26, 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the United States Supreme Court affirmed, by a 5-4 vote, the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision struck down the D.C. gun law. It also clarifies the scope of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, stating that it stipulates an individual right irrespective of membership in a militia. However, the court made it clear that like other rights, the right to bear arms is not without limitations, leaving open the prospect of reasonable governmental regulation. The decision declined to rule on the incorporation of the Second Amendment, leaving its applicability to the states unsettled ("While the status of the Second Amendment within the twentieth-century incorporation debate is a matter of importance for the many challenges to state gun control laws, it is an issue that we need not decide.). After the decision in Heller was released, the D.C. government passed emergency legislation that would ban semiautomatic handguns, but allow unloaded revolvers, prompting petitioner Heller to launch another legal action.However, in September 2008, the D.C. Council relented and allowed the possession of most semi-automatic handguns, without a trigger lock or unloading requirement. Simultaneously, H.R. 6691 is a bipartisan bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives, that would require the D.C. government to comply with the decision in Heller, and eliminate most gun restrictions in the district, including allowing residents to purchase firearms in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. As of September 16, 2008, the legislation has enough bipartisan support to pass through the House, but has not yet been addressed by the U.S. Senate.
Gun control laws and regulations exist at all levels of government, with the vast majority being local codes which vary between jurisdictions. The NRA reports 20,000 gun laws nationwide. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine notes 300 federal and state laws regarding the manufacture, design, sale, purchase, or possession of guns.
At the federal level, fully automatic weapons and short barrel shotguns have been taxed and mandated to be registered since 1934 with the National Firearms Act. The Gun Control Act of 1968 adds prohibition of mail-order sales, prohibits transfers to minors, and outlaws civilian ownership of machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986. The 1968 Act requires that guns carry serial numbers and implemented a tracking system to determine the purchaser of a gun whose make, model, and serial number are known. It also prohibited gun ownership by convicted felons and certain other individuals. The Act was updated in the 1990s with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, mainly to add a mechanism for the criminal history of gun purchasers to be checked at the point of sale, and in 1996 with the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban to prohibit ownership and use of guns by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.
The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act enacted the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which banned the purchase, sale, or transfer of any weapon specifically named in the act, other weapons with a certain number of "defining features", and detatchable magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, that had been manufactured after the beginning date of the ban. The Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, but H.R. 6257 introduced June 12, 2008 seeks to re-instate the ban indefinitely as well as to expand the list of banned weapons. Three co-sponsors (as of June 18, 2008) support it. New York, California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, and New Jersey and several local jurisdictions have codified some provisions of the now expired 2004 Federal ban into State and local law.