Gun Control Legislation
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Congress has continued to debate the efficacy and constitutionality of federal regulation of
firearms and ammunition, with strong advocates arguing for and against greater gun control.
Although several dozen gun control-related proposals were introduced in recent Congresses, only
a handful of those bills have received significant legislative action. On June 26, 2008, however,
the Supreme Court issued its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller and found that the District
of Columbia (DC) handgun ban violates an individual’s right under the Second Amendment to
lawfully possess a handgun in his home for self defense. Dissatisfied with the District’s response
to this decision, pro gun Members have reportedly convinced the House leadership to consider a
bill (H.R. 6691) in September that would overturn major provisions of the District’s gun laws.
Earlier in the 110th Congress, the tragic events at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, prompted the
passage of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act (P.L. 110-180; H.R. 2640). This Act includes
provisions that encourage states, as a condition of federal funding, to update and make available
disqualifying records on persons found to be “mental defective” and convicted of misdemeanor
crimes of domestic violence for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check
System (NICS). On a related matter, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has approved a bill
(S. 2969) that was amended to include a provision that would revamp procedures by which
veterans are found to be “mentally incompetent” and, thus, lose their firearms eligibility (for a
similar bill, see S. 3167).
The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, has reported a bill (S. 376) that would amend the
Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) to widen eligibility under that law, as well as
clarify other provisions related to eligibility, credentialing, and certification. The House
companion bill is H.R. 2726. Congress has made permanent funding limitations on the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ release of firearm trace data in the Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-161). In addition, the House has passed a public housing bill
(H.R. 6216) that includes a provision that would prohibit housing authorities from barring tenants
from possessing legal firearms as a condition of their lease. The Senate leadership, however, has
blocked an amendment to a public lands bill (S. 2483) that would overturn federal regulations
prohibiting loaded and concealed firearms in National Parks and Wildlife Refuges (for a similar
bill, see S. 2619).
Other salient gun control-related issues and related proposals that may reemerge in the remainder th
of the 110 Congress include (1) authorizing federal judges, judicial officials, U.S. Attorneys, and
Department of Justice personnel to carry firearms for self-defense (H.R. 2325 and S. 1235); (2)
retaining Brady background check records for approved transactions to enhance terrorist
screening (S. 1237, S. 2935, H.R. 2074, and H.R. 3547); (3) more strictly regulating certain long-
range .50 caliber rifles (S. 1331); (4) further regulating “assault weapons” and “large capacity
ammunition feeding devices” (H.R. 1022, H.R. 1859, H.R. 6257, and S. 2237); and (5) requiring
background checks for firearm transfers at gun shows (H.R. 96, S. 2237, and S. 2577). This report
will be updated to reflect legislative action.
Background and Analysis................................................................................................................2
How Many Guns Are in the United States?........................................................................3
How Often Are Guns Used in Homicides?.........................................................................4
How Often Are Guns Used in Non-lethal Crimes?.............................................................5
How Prevalent Is Gun Violence Among Youth?.................................................................5
How Prevalent Are Gun-Related Fatalities?.......................................................................5
How Often Are Firearms Used in Self-Defense?................................................................6
What About the Recreational Use of Guns?.......................................................................6
Federal Regulation of Firearms.......................................................................................................7
The National Firearms Act (NFA).............................................................................................7
The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA)........................................................................................7
Firearm Transfer and Possession Eligibility.......................................................................8
Licensed Dealers and Firearm Transfers.............................................................................8
Private Firearm Transfers....................................................................................................9
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.................................................................................9
POC and Non-POC States..................................................................................................9
Brady Background Check Statistics..................................................................................10
System Delayed Transfers.................................................................................................10
Legislative Action in the 110th Congress........................................................................................11
Constitutionality of DC Handgun Ban and Related Legislation.............................................12
DC Council Passes Emergency Law.................................................................................12
Legislation to Overturn Major DC Gun Laws..................................................................12
DC Voting Rights Act.......................................................................................................13
NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007.......................................................................13
Veterans, Mental Incompetency, and Firearms Eligibility......................................................15
Mental Defective Adjudications.......................................................................................15
Veterans, Mental Incompetency, Firearms Eligibility.......................................................16
Public Housing and Firearms Possession and Use..................................................................16
Public Lands and Firearms Possession and Use......................................................................17
Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2007.......................................................................18
Tiahrt Amendment and Firearm Trace Data Limitations........................................................18
Firearms Enforcement-Related Funding Bills.........................................................................19
ATF Appropriations for FY2008 and FY2009 .................................................................19
Merida Initiative and Southwest Border Gun Trafficking................................................20
Legislative Action in the 109th Congress.......................................................................................20
Enacted Legislation and Related Amendments.......................................................................20
Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act..................................................................20
Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006.........................................................21
House Judiciary Committee Considered Gun Bills.................................................................22
ATFE Modernization and Reform Act of 2006.................................................................22
Firearms Corrections and Improvements Act...................................................................23
Firearm Commerce Modernization Act............................................................................25
NICS Improvement Act of 2005.......................................................................................25
Gun Provisions Attached to Funding and Crime Bills............................................................26
District of Columbia Handgun Ban..................................................................................26
Sex Offenders and Firearm Possession Eligibility............................................................26
Court Security and LEOSA Amendments.........................................................................26
ATF Appropriations for FY2005, FY2006, and FY2007..................................................27
Other Salient Gun Control Legislative Issues...............................................................................28
Brady Background Checks and Terrorist Watch Lists.............................................................28
Background Check Fee and Record Retention.................................................................28
Terrorist Watch List Checks..............................................................................................29
Long-Range .50 Caliber Rifles................................................................................................31
Expired Semiautomatic Assault Weapons Ban........................................................................32
Gun Shows and Private Firearm Transfers..............................................................................34
Appendix. Major Federal Firearm and Related Statutes...............................................................36
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................37
Congress has continued to debate the efficacy and constitutionality of further federal regulation of
firearms and ammunition. Several dozen gun control-related proposals were introduced in recent
Congresses, but only a handful of those bills have received significant legislative action. On June
26, 2008, however, the Supreme Court issued its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller and
found that the District of Columbia (DC) handgun ban violates an individual’s right under the 1
Second Amendment to lawfully possess a handgun in his home for self defense. Dissatisfied with
the District’s response to the Heller decision, pro gun Members have reportedly convinced the
House leadership to consider a bill (H.R. 6691) after the Labor Day recess that would further
overturn major provisions of the District’s gun laws.
Earlier in the 110th Congress, the tragic events at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, prompted the
passage of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act (P.L. 110-180; H.R. 2640), a bill designed to
provide incentives to states to update and make available disqualifying records on persons
adjudicated “mental defective” and convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse crimes accessible
through the National Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for the purposes of determining
firearms possession and transfer eligibility. On a related matter, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs
Committee has approved a bill (S. 2969) that was amended in full committee markup by Senator
Richard Burr to include a provision that would prohibit the Department of Veterans of Affairs
(VA) from determining a veteran to be “mentally incompetent” without “the order or finding of a
judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority of competent jurisdiction.” The Burr amendment
would also require the VA to notify veterans who are found to be mentally incompetent that they
will lose their firearms possession eligibility and would give those veterans greater opportunity to
appeal those findings administratively. Senator Burr previously introduced a similar bill as a
stand-alone bill (S. 3167).
The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported a bill (S. 376; S.Rept. 110-150) sponsored by its
chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, that would amend the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act
(LEOSA) to widen eligibility under that law, as well as clarify other provisions related to
eligibility, credentialing, and certification. Representative Randy Forbes has introduced a similar
bill (H.R. 2726). Congress has made permanent funding limitations on the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF’s) release of firearm trace and multiple handgun sales
report data in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-161).
In addition, the House has passed legislation (H.R. 6216) that includes a provision that would
prohibit the Housing and Urban Development Secretary from accepting as reasonable any
management or related fees charged by a Public Housing Authority (PHA) for enforcing any
provision of a lease agreement established by a PHA that requires tenants to register an otherwise
legally possessed firearm, or prohibits firearm possession outright. On the other hand, the
provision would also allow PHAs to terminate the lease of any tenant who illegally uses a
firearm. The Senate leadership, meanwhile, has successfully blocked an amendment during
consideration of a public lands bill (S. 2483) that would overturn federal regulations that prohibit
the carrying of loaded and concealed firearms in National Parks and Wildlife refuges. Senator
Tom Coburn previously introduced a similar bill (S. 2619).
1 For legal analysis, see CRS Report RL34446, District of Columbia v. Heller: The Supreme Court and the Second
Amendment, by T. J. Halstead.
Other salient gun control-related issues and related proposals that may reemerge in the remainder th
of the 110 Congress include (1) authorizing federal judges, judicial officials, U.S. Attorneys, and
Department of Justice personnel to carry firearms for self-defense (H.R. 2325 and S. 1235); (2)
retaining Brady background check records for approved transactions to enhance terrorist
screening (S. 1237, S. 2935, H.R. 2074, and H.R. 3547); (3) more strictly regulating certain long-
range .50 caliber rifles (S. 1331); (4) further regulating “assault weapons” and “large capacity
ammunition feeding devices” (H.R. 1022, H.R. 1859, H.R. 6237, and S. 2237); and (5) requiring
background checks for firearm transfers at gun shows (H.R. 96, S. 2237, and S. 2577).
Through the years, legislative proposals to restrict the availability of firearms to the public have
raised the following questions: What restrictions on firearms are permissible under the
Constitution? Does gun control constitute crime control? Can the nation’s rates of homicide,
robbery, and assault be reduced by the stricter regulation of firearm commerce or ownership?
Would restrictions stop attacks on public figures or thwart deranged persons and terrorists? Would
household, street corner, and schoolyard disputes be less lethal if firearms were more difficult and
expensive to acquire? Would more restrictive gun control policies have the unintended effect of
impairing citizens’ means of self-defense?
In recent years, proponents of gun control legislation have often held that only federal laws can
be effective in the United States. Otherwise, they say, states with few restrictions will continue to
be sources of guns that flow illegally into more restrictive states. They believe that the Second
Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “[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,”
is being misread in today’s modern society. They argue that the Second Amendment (1) is now
obsolete, with the presence of professional police forces; (2) was intended solely to guard against
suppression of state militias by the central government and therefore restricted in scope by that
intent; and (3) does not guarantee a right that is absolute, but one that can be limited by
reasonable requirements. They ask why in today’s modern society a private citizen needs any
firearm that is not designed primarily for hunting or other recognized sporting purposes.
Proponents of firearm restrictions have advocated policy changes on specific types of firearms or
components that they believe are useful primarily for criminal purposes or that pose unusual risks
to the public. Fully automatic firearms (i.e., machine guns) and short-barreled rifles and shotguns
have been subject to strict regulation since 1934. Fully automatic firearms have been banned from
private possession since 1986, except for those legally owned and registered with the Secretary of
the Treasury on May 19, 1986. More recently, “Saturday night specials” (loosely defined as
inexpensive, small handguns), “assault weapons,” ammunition-feeding devices with capacities for
more than seven rounds, and certain ammunition have been the focus of control efforts.
Opponents of gun control vary in their positions with respect to specific forms of control but
generally hold that gun control laws do not accomplish what is intended. They argue that it is as
difficult to keep weapons from being acquired by “high-risk” individuals, even under federal laws
and enforcement, as it was intended to stop the sale and use of liquor during Prohibition. In their
view, a more stringent federal firearm regulatory system would only create problems for law-
abiding citizens, bring mounting frustration and escalation of bans by gun regulators, and
possibly threaten citizens’ civil rights or safety. Some argue that the low violent crime rates of
other countries have nothing to do with gun control, maintaining instead that multiple cultural
differences are responsible.
Gun control opponents also reject the assumption that the only legitimate purpose of ownership
by a private citizen is recreational (i.e., hunting and target-shooting). They insist on the
continuing need of people for effective means to defend person and property, and they point to
studies that they believe show that gun possession lowers the incidence of crime. They say that
the law enforcement and criminal justice system in the United States has not demonstrated the
ability to furnish an adequate measure of public safety in all settings. Some opponents believe
further that the Second Amendment includes a right to keep arms as a defense against potential
government tyranny, pointing to examples in other countries of the use of firearm restrictions to
curb dissent and secure illegitimate government power.
The debate has been intense. To gun control advocates, the opposition is out of touch with the
times, misinterprets the Second Amendment, and is lacking in concern for the problems of crime
and violence. To gun control opponents, advocates are naive in their faith in the power of
regulation to solve social problems, bent on disarming the American citizen for ideological or
social reasons, and moved by irrational hostility to firearms and gun enthusiasts.
Crime and mortality statistics are often used in the gun control debate. According to a recent
study, however, none of the existing sources of statistics provide either comprehensive, timely, or
accurate data with which to definitively assess whether there is a causal connection between 2
firearms and violence. For example, existing data do not show whether the number of people
shot and killed with semiautomatic assault weapons declined during the 10-year period (1994-3
2004) that those firearms were banned from further proliferation in the United States. Presented
below are data on the following topics: (1) the number of guns in the United States, (2) firearm-
related homicides, (3) non-lethal/firearm-related victimizations, (4) gun violence and youth, (5)
gun-related mortality rates, (6) use of firearms for personal defense, and (7) recreational use of
firearms. In some cases, the data presented are more than a decade old but remain the most recent
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) reported in a national survey that in 1994, 44 million
people, approximately 35% of households, owned 192 million firearms, 65 million of which were 4
handguns. Seventy-four percent of those individuals were reported to own more than one 5
firearm. According to the ATF, by the end of 1996, approximately 242 million firearms were
2 National Research Council, Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review (Washington, 2005), p. 48.
3 Ibid., p. 49.
4 Jens Ludwig and Phillip J. Cook, Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms, NCJ
165476, May 1999, 12 pp., available at http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles/165476.pdf.
available for sale to or were possessed by civilians in the United States.6 That total includes
roughly 72 million handguns (mostly pistols, revolvers, and derringers), 76 million rifles, and 64 7
million shotguns. By 2000, the number of firearms had increased to approximately 259 million: 8
Most guns available for sale are produced domestically. In recent years, 1 to 2 million handguns 9
were manufactured each year, along with 1 million rifles and fewer than 1 million shotguns.
Annual imports are considerably smaller—from 200,000 to 400,000 handguns, 200,000 rifles, 10
and 100,000 to 200,000 shotguns. Retail prices of guns vary widely, from $75 or less for
inexpensive, low-caliber handguns to more than $1,500 for higher-end, standard-production rifles 11
and shotguns. Data are not available on the number of “assault weapons” in private possession
or available for sale, but one study estimated that 1.5 million assault weapons were privately 12
owned in 1994.
Reports submitted by state and local law enforcement agencies to the FBI and published annually 13
in the Uniform Crime Reports indicate that the violent crime rate has declined from 1981
through 2004; however, the number of homicides and the proportion involving firearms have
increased in recent years. From 1993 to 1999, the number of firearm-related homicides decreased
by an average rate of nearly 11% annually, for an overall decrease of 49%. From 2000 to 2003,
known firearm-related homicides increased by
• 2.0% (to 8,661) in 2000,
• 2.6% (to 8,890) in 2001,
• 7.2% (to 9,528) in 2002, and
• 1.4% (to 9,659) in 2003.
In 2004, firearms-related homicides decreased by 2.8% (to 9,385). In 2005, however, firearms-
related homicides increased again by 8.2% (to 10,158). In 2006, firearms-related homicides
increased by 0.2% (to 10,177, according to preliminary data). In the past 10 years, about half of
all homicides for which the cause is known were handgun-related. Of those homicides, the annual
percentage that were firearms-related ranged from a low of 63% in 2001 to a high of 68% in
6 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, Commerce in Firearms in the United
States, February 2000, pp. A3-A5.
7 Ibid., pp. A3-A5.
8 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Firearms Commerce in the United States
2001/2002, ATF P 9000.4, April 2002, pp. E1-E3.
9 Ibid., pp. E1-E3.
11 Ned Schwing, 2005 Standard Catalog of Firearms: The Collector’s Price and Reference Guide, 15th edition (Iola,
Wisconsin, 2005), 1,504 pp.
12 Christopher S. Koper, Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun
Violence, 1994-2003 (Washington, July 2004), 108 pp.
13 Go to http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm.
The other principal source of national crime data is the National Crime Victimization Survey
(NCVS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics
(BJS). The NCVS database provides some information on the weapons used by offenders, based
on victims’ reports. Based on data provided by survey respondents in calendar year 2003, BJS
estimated that, nationwide, there were 5.4 million violent crimes (rape or sexual assault, robbery,
aggravated assault, and simple assault). Weapons were used in about 1.2 million of these criminal 14
incidents. Firearms were used by offenders in about 367,000 of these incidents, or roughly 7%.
Youth crime statistics have often been used in the gun control debate. The number of homicides
committed annually with a firearm by persons in the 14 - to 24 - year-old age group increased
sharply from 1985 to 1993; they have declined since then, but have not returned to the 1985 level.
According to BJS, from 1985 to 1993, the number of firearm-related homicides committed by 14
– to 17 - year-olds increased by 294%, from 855 to 3,371. From 1993 to 2000, the number of
firearm-related homicides committed by persons in this age group decreased by 68%, from 3,371
to 1,084. From 1985 to 1993, firearm-related homicides committed by 18 - to 24 - year-olds
increased by 142%, from 3,374 to 8,171. From 1993 to 1999, firearm-related homicides
committed by persons in this age group decreased by 39%, from 8,171 to 4,988. They increased 15
by 3% to 5,162 in 2000. More recent statistics for youth have yet to be reported. Although gun-
related violence in schools is statistically a rare event, a DOJ survey indicated that 12.7% of 16
students age 12 to 19 reported knowing a student who brought a firearm to school.
The source of national data on firearm deaths is the publication Vital Statistics, published each
year by the National Center for Health Statistics. Firearm deaths reported by coroners in each 17
state are presented in four categories: homicides and legal intervention, suicides, accidents, and
Firearm fatalities decreased continuously from 1993 through 2001, by an average rate of nearly
5% annually, for an overall decrease of nearly 28%. Compared with firearm deaths in 2000, such
deaths increased by 3% in 2001. They increased again by 2% in 2002. In that year, there was a
total of 30,242 firearm deaths. Of this total, 12,129 were homicides or due to legal intervention,
14 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, Criminal
Victimization, 2003, by Shannan M. Catalano, available online at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cv03.pdf.
15 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Homicide Trends in the United States, by James Alan Fox
and Marianne W. Zawitz, at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/teens.htm.
16 For further information, see CRS Report RL30482, The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program:
Background and Context, by Edith Fairman Cooper.
17 “Legal interventions” include deaths (in these cases by firearms) that involve legal uses of force (justifiable homicide
or manslaughter) usually by the police.
18 National Vital Statistics System data taken from the Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS),
available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/default.htm.
Of firearms-related deaths in 2002, there were 1,443 juvenile (younger than 18 years old). Of the
juvenile total, 879 were homicides or due to legal intervention, 423 were suicides, 115 were
unintentional, and 26 were of unknown cause. From 1993 to 2001, firearm-related deaths for
juveniles decreased by an average rate of 10% annually, for an overall decrease of 56%. From 19
According to BJS, NCVS data from 1987 to 1992 indicate that in each of those years, roughly
themselves. Another 20,000 persons each year used guns to protect property. Persons in the
business of self-protection (police officers, armed security guards) may have been included in the 21
survey. Another source of information on the use of firearms for self-defense is the National
Self Defense Survey conducted by criminology professor Gary Kleck of Florida State University
in the spring of 1993. Citing responses from 4,978 households, Dr. Kleck estimated that handguns
have been used 2.1 million times per year for self-defense, and that all types of guns have been 22
used approximately 2.5 million times a year for that purpose during the 1988-1993 period.
Why do these numbers vary by such a wide margin? Law enforcement agencies do not collect
information on the number of times civilians use firearms to defend themselves or their property
against attack. Such data have been collected in household surveys. The contradictory nature of
the available statistics may be partially explained by methodological factors. That is, these and
other criminal justice statistics reflect what is reported to have occurred, not necessarily the actual
number of times certain events occur. Victims and offenders are sometimes reluctant to be candid
with researchers. So, the number of incidents can only be estimated, making it difficult to state
with certainty the accuracy of statistics such as the number of times firearms are used in self-
defense. For this and other reasons, criminal justice statistics often vary when different
methodologies are applied.
Survey research can be limited, because it is difficult to produce statistically significant findings
from small incident populations. For example, the sample in the National Self-Defense Survey
might have been too small, given the likely low incidence rate and the inherent limitations of
According to NIJ, in 1994, recreation was the most common motivation for owning a firearm.23
There were approximately 15 million hunters, about 35% of gun owners, in the United States and
20 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Guns and Crime: Handgun
Victimization, Firearm Self Defense, and Firearm Theft, NCJ-147003, April 1994, available at
22 Gary Kleck, “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self Defense with a Gun,” Journal of
Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86, issue 1, 1995, available at http://www.guncite.com/gcdgklec.html.
23 Jens Ludwig and Phillip J. Cook, Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,
NCJ 165476, May 1999, p. 2.
about the same number and percentage of gun owners engaged in sport shooting in 1994.24 More
recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that there were more than 14.7 million 25
persons who were paid license holders in 2003 and, according to the National Shooting Sports
Foundation, in that year, approximately 15.2 million persons hunted with a firearm and nearly 26
Two major federal statutes regulate the commerce in, and possession of, firearms: the National
Firearms Act of 1934 (26 U.S.C. § 5801 et seq.) and the Gun Control Act of 1968, as amended
(18 U.S.C. Chapter 44, § 921 et seq.). Supplementing federal law, many state firearm laws are
stricter than federal law. For example, some states require permits to obtain firearms and impose a
waiting period for firearm transfers. Other states are less restrictive, but state law cannot preempt
federal law. Federal law serves as the minimum standard in the United States.
The NFA was originally designed to make it difficult to obtain types of firearms perceived to be
especially lethal or to be the chosen weapons of “gangsters,” most notably machine guns and
short-barreled long guns. This law also regulates firearms, other than pistols and revolvers, that
can be concealed on a person (e.g., pen, cane, and belt buckle guns). It taxes all aspects of the
manufacture and distribution of such weapons, and it compels the disclosure (through registration
with the Attorney General) of the production and distribution system from manufacturer to buyer.
As stated in the GCA, the purpose of federal firearm regulation is to assist federal, state, and local
law enforcement in the ongoing effort to reduce crime and violence. In the same act, however,
Congress also stated that the intent of the law is not to place any undue or unnecessary burdens on
law-abiding citizens in regard to the lawful acquisition, possession, or use of firearms for hunting,
trapshooting, target shooting, personal protection, or any other lawful activity.
The GCA, as amended, contains the principal federal restrictions on domestic commerce in small
arms and ammunition. The statute requires all persons manufacturing, importing, or selling
firearms as a business to be federally licensed; prohibits the interstate mail-order sale of all
firearms; prohibits interstate sale of handguns generally and sets forth categories of persons to
whom firearms or ammunition may not be sold, such as persons under a specified age or with
criminal records; authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to prohibit the importation of non-
sporting firearms; requires that dealers maintain records of all commercial gun sales; and
establishes special penalties for the use of a firearm in the perpetration of a federal drug
trafficking offense or crime of violence.
24 Ibid., p. 3.
25 U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Hunting License Report (December 2,
26 American Sports Data, Inc., The SUPERSTUDY of Sports Participation, available at http://www.nssf.org/
Private transactions between persons “not engaged in the business” are not covered by the GCA.
These transactions and other matters such as possession, registration, and the issuance of licenses
to firearm owners may be covered by state laws or local ordinances. As amended by the Brady
Handgun Violence Prevention Act, 1993 (P.L. 103-159), the GCA requires background checks be
completed for all non licensed persons seeking to obtain firearms from federal firearms licensees.
For a listing of other major firearm and related statutes, see the Appendix.
Under current law, there are nine classes of persons prohibited from possessing firearms: (1)
persons convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one
year; (2) fugitives from justice; (3) drug users or addicts; (4) persons adjudicated mental
defectives or committed to mental institutions; (5) unauthorized immigrants and most non
immigrant visitors; (6) persons dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces; (7) U.S.
citizenship renunciates; (8) persons under court-order restraints related to harassing, stalking, or
threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner; and (9) persons convicted of
misdemeanor domestic violence (18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and (n)).
Since 1994, moreover, it has been a federal offense for any non licensed person to transfer a
handgun to anyone younger than 18 years old. It has also been illegal for anyone younger than 18
years old to possess a handgun (there are exceptions to this law related to employment, ranching,
farming, target practice, and hunting) (18 U.S.C. § 922(x)).
Under current law, federal firearms licensees (hereafter referred to as licensees) may ship,
transport, and receive firearms that have moved in interstate and foreign commerce. Licensees are
currently required to verify with the FBI through a background check that non licensed persons
are eligible to possess a firearm before subsequently transferring a firearm to them. Licensees
must also verify the identity of non licensed transferees by inspecting a government-issued
identity document (e.g., a driver’s license).
Licensees may engage in interstate transfers of firearms among themselves without conducting
background checks. Licensees may transfer long guns (rifles and shotguns) to out-of-state
residents, as long as the transactions are face-to-face and not knowingly in violation of the laws
of the state in which the unlicensed transferees reside. Licensees, however, may not transfer
handguns to unlicensed out-of-state residents. Transfer of handguns by licensees to anyone
younger than 21 years old is also prohibited, as is the transfer of long guns to anyone younger
than 18 years old (18 U.S.C. §922(b)). Also, licensees are required to submit “multiple sales
reports” to the Attorney General if any person purchases two or more handguns within five
Furthermore, licensees are required to maintain records on all acquisitions and dispositions of
firearms. They are obligated to respond to ATF agents requesting firearm tracing information
within 24 hours. Under certain circumstances, ATF agents may inspect, without search warrants,
their business premises, inventory, and gun records.
Non licensees are prohibited from acquiring firearms from out-of-state sources (except for long
guns acquired from licensees under the conditions described above). Non licensees are also
prohibited from transferring firearms to any persons who they have reasonable cause to believe
are not residents of the state in which the transaction occurs. In addition, since 1986, it has been a
federal offense for non licensees to knowingly transfer a firearm to prohibited persons. It is also
notable that firearm transfers initiated through the Internet are subject to the same federal laws as 27
transfers initiated in any other manner.
After seven years of extensive public debate, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence 28
Prevention Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-159, the Brady Act) as an amendment to the Gun Control Act
of 1968, requiring background checks for firearm transfers between federally licensed firearm
dealers and non-licensed persons. The Brady Act included both interim and permanent provisions.
Under the interim provisions, which were in effect through November 1998, background checks
were required for handgun transfers, and licensed firearm dealers were required to contact local
chief law enforcement officers (CLEOs) to determine the eligibility of prospective customers to
be transferred a handgun. The CLEOs were given up to five business days to make such
Under the Brady permanent provisions, Congress required the Attorney General to establish a
national instant criminal background check system (NICS) by November 1998. In turn, the
Attorney General delegated this responsibility to the FBI. Today, the FBI’s Criminal Justice
Information Services (CJIS) division maintains the NICS. Under the Brady permanent provisions,
federally licensed firearm dealers are required to contact the FBI or state authorities, who in turn
contact the FBI, to determine whether prospective customers are eligible to be transferred a
handgun or long gun. The FBI and state authorities have up to three business days to make such
eligibility determinations. It is notable that federal firearms laws serve as the minimum standard
in the United States. States may choose, and have chosen, to regulate firearms more strictly. For
example, some states require set waiting periods and/or licenses for firearm transfers and
Although the FBI handles background checks entirely for some states, other states serve as full or
partial points of contact (POCs) and federal firearms licensees contact a state agency, and the
state agency contacts the FBI for such checks. In 14 states, state agencies serve as full POCs and
27 For further information, see CRS Report RS20957, Internet Firearm Sales, by T. J. Halstead.
28 107 Stat. 1536, November 30, 1993.
conduct background checks for both long gun and handgun transfers. In four states, state agencies
serve as partial POCs for handgun permits, whereas in another four states, state agencies serve as
partial POCs for handgun transfers only. In these eight partial POC states, checks for long gun
transfers are conducted entirely through the FBI. In the 28 non-POC states, the District of
Columbia, and four territories (Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin
Islands), federal firearms licensees contact the FBI directly to conduct background checks
through NICS for both handgun and long gun checks.
For state agencies (POCs), background checks may not be as expeditious, but they may be more
thorough, because state agencies may have greater access to databases and records that are not
available through NICS. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), this is 29
particularly true for domestic violence misdemeanor offenses and protective orders.
Through calendar year 2005, nearly 70 million background checks for firearm transfer 30
applications occurred under both the interim and permanent provisions of the Brady Act. Of this
number, nearly 1,360,000 background checks, or about 1.9%, resulted in firearm transfers being 31
denied. Under the interim provisions, nearly 13 million firearm background checks (for 32
handguns) were completed during that four-year period, resulting in 312,000 denials. Under the
permanent provisions of the Brady Act, more than 57 million checks were completed, resulting in 33
over 1 million denials, or a 2% denial rate. Nearly 32 million of these checks were completed 34
entirely by the FBI for non-POC states, the District, and four territories. Those checks resulted 35
in a denial rate of 1.5%. More than 25 million checks were conducted by full or partial POC 3637
states. Those checks resulted in a higher denial rate of 2.3%.
NICS eligibility determination rates (how expeditiously the system makes eligibility
determinations) have been controversial. According to GAO, about 72% of the NICS checks
handled by the FBI resulted in immediate determinations of eligibility. Of the remaining 28% that
resulted in a non-definitive response, neither a “proceed” nor a denial, 80% were turned around
within two hours. The remaining 20% of delayed transactions took hours or days for the FBI 38
NICS examiners to reach a final determination.
29 For further information, see GAO, Gun Control: Opportunities to Close Loopholes in the National Instant Criminal
Background Check System, GAO-02-720, July 2002, p. 27.
30 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Background Checks for Firearm
Transfers, 2005, November 2004, p. 1.
33 Ibid., p. 2.
38 For further information, see GAO, Gun Control: Implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check
System, GGD/AIMD-00-64, p. 68. (Hereafter cited as GAO, Implementation of NICS.)
In many cases, firearm transfers were delayed because there was an outstanding charge without a
final disposition against the person seeking to purchase the firearm. Such cases necessitate that
the FBI examiners contact local or state authorities for additional information. Under current law,
the FBI is authorized to delay the sale for three business days to determine the outcome of the
charge and, thus, establish the eligibility of the transferee to possess a firearm. The FBI reported
that, from July 2002 through March 2003, the immediate determination rate for NICS increased 39
to 91%, compared with less than 77% from November 2001 through July 2002.
NICS availability—how regularly the system can be accessed during business hours and not
delay legitimate firearm transfers—has also been a source of complaint. GAO found, however,
that in the first year of NICS operation, the FBI had achieved its system availability goal of 98% 40
for four months. System availability for the remaining eight months averaged 95.4%. The FBI 41
reports that NICS service availability was increased to 99% in FY2001 and FY2002. During th
consideration of legislation in the 106 Congress to extend the Brady Act background check
provisions to all firearm transfers at gun shows, the capacity of NICS to instantaneously
accomplish these checks became a major stumbling block to enactment.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that the DC handgun
ban violated an individual’s right under the Second Amendment to possess a handgun, the House
of Representatives reportedly will consider legislation to overturn certain related DC gun laws.
Some Members of Congress maintain that the DC Council has not changed its laws to adequately
reflect the “spirit” of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Congress has also passed, and the President has signed, a bill designed to strengthen Brady
background checks for firearms transfers as a response to the tragic events at Virginia Tech on
April 16, 2007, and other shootings. The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that
would revamp procedures by which Veterans are adjudicated “mentally incompetent” and, thus,
lose their firearms eligibility. The House has passed legislation that would prohibit public housing
authorities from barring tenants from possessing legal firearms as a condition of their lease. The
Senate leadership has prevented consideration by that body of a proposal that would overturn
federal regulations prohibiting the possession of loaded and concealed firearms in National Parks
and Wildlife Refuges.
In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reported legislation that would amend the Law
Enforcement Officers Safety Act (P.L. 108-277), a law that gives concealed carry privileges to
certain qualified active-duty and retired law enforcement officers. Furthermore, Congress has
reconsidered and made permanent funding limitations placed on the ATF in regard to the release
of firearm trace and multiple handgun sales report data.
39 See National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS): 2001/2002 Operational Report, May 2003, p. 8.
(Hereafter cited as NICS 2001/2002 Operational Report.)
40 See GAO, Implementation of NICS, p. 94.
41 See NICS 2001/2002 Operational Report, p. 6.
On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court issued its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller on the
constitutionality of a DC gun law that banned handguns for 32 years, among other things. Passed
by the DC Council on June 26, 1976, the DC handgun ban required that all firearms within the
District be registered, all owners be licensed, and prohibited the registration of handguns after
September 24, 1976. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found the handgun ban to be
unconstitutional, because it violated an individual’s right under the Second Amendment to 42
possess a handgun in his home for lawful purposes such as self defense.
On July 15, 2008, the DC Council passed a temporary, emergency law that allows residents to
apply for a “home” handgun license that would allow them to keep a handgun in their home as
long as that firearm has a capacity of fewer than 12 rounds of ammunition and is not loadable
from a magazine in the handgrip, which in effect limits legal handguns under the temporary law
to revolvers as opposed to semiautomatic pistols. The emergency law also continues to require
that handguns be kept unloaded or disassembled or trigger locked, unless an attack in a home is
imminent or underway. Pro gun groups immediately criticized the Council’s emergency law for
not being in the “spirit” of the Supreme Court’s decision, because it continued to ban
semiautomatic pistols and did not fully roll back the trigger lock requirement.
Reportedly, pro gun Members of Congress are also dissatisfied with the DC Council’s temporary
law. On July 24, 2008, Representative Mike Ross filed a motion to discharge the Rules
Committee from consideration of H.Res. 1331, a resolution that provides for the consideration of 43
a bill to restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia (H.R. 1399). This bill is
similar to previous bills introduced by Representative Mark Souder and Senators Kay Bailey
Hutchison and Orrin Hatch in previous congresses. Representative Ross introduced H.R. 1399 in th
the 110 Congress for himself and Representative Souder on March 27, 2007, and Senator
Hutchison introduced a companion measure (S. 1001) on March 28, 2007.
In the 110th Congress, Representative Travis Childers introduced a similar bill (H.R. 6691) on
July 31, 2008. All three bills would amend the DC Code to
• limit the Council’s authority to regulate firearms;
• remove the term “semiautomatic weapon,” defined as a firearm that can fire more
than 12 rounds without manually reloading, from the definition of “machine
• amend the registration requirements so that they do not apply to handguns, but
only to sawed-off shotguns, machine guns, and short-barreled rifles;
• remove restrictions on ammunition possession;
42 For legal analysis, see CRS Report RL34446, District of Columbia v. Heller: The Supreme Court and the Second
Amendment, by T. J. Halstead.
43 Under the Home Rule Act (P.L. 93-198), Congress has reserved for itself the authority to legislate for the District.
• repeal requirements that DC residents keep firearms in their possession unloaded
and disassembled, or bound by a trigger lock;
• repeal firearm registration requirements generally; and
• repeal certain criminal penalties for possessing unregistered firearms or carrying
Representatives John Dingell, John Tanner, and Mike Ross reportedly have an agreement with the 44
House leadership to consider H.R. 6691 sometime in early September. H.R. 6691 includes
language that states as a congressional finding that DC officials “have indicated their intention to
continue to unduly restrict law firearm possession and use by citizens of the District.” H.R. 6691
also includes a provision that would allow DC residents to purchase firearms from federally
licensed gun dealers in Virginia and Maryland.
Representative Lamar Smith successfully scuttled the District of Columbia House Voting Rights
Act of 2007 (H.R. 1433) on March 22, 2007, when he offered a motion to recommit the bill to the
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for consideration of an amendment to 45
repeal portions of the DC handgun ban. Rather than vote on the motion, debate on H.R. 1433
was postponed indefinitely.
Earlier in the 110th Congress, the Senate amended and passed the NICS Improvement
Amendments Act of 2007 (H.R. 2640) following lengthy negotiations, as did the House, on
December 19, 2007, clearing that bill for the President’s signature. President Bush signed this bill
into law on January 8, 2008 (P.L. 110-180). The enacted NICS amendments:
• strengthen a provision in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (P.L. 103-
159) that requires federal agencies to provide, and the Attorney General to
secure, any government records with information relevant to determining the
eligibility of a person to receive a firearm;
• require states, as a condition of federal assistance, to make available to the
Attorney General certain records that would disqualify persons from acquiring a
firearm for inclusion in the FBI-administered National Instant Criminal
Background Check System (NICS), particularly those records related to
44 Keith Perine and Seth Stern, “House Democrats Plan Vote To Roll Back D.C. Gun Laws,” CQ Today Online News,
August 5, 2008.
45 Jonathan Allen, “Gun-Rights Gambit Sidetracks D.C. House Vote,” CQ Today, March 22, 2007; and for further
information on H.R. 1433, see CRS Report RL33830, District of Columbia Voting Representation in Congress: An
Analysis of Legislative Proposals, by Eugene Boyd.
46 As described in greater detail above, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is
administered by the FBI, so that federally licensed gun dealers can process a background check to determine a
customer’s eligibility to possess a firearm before proceeding with a transaction.
convictions for misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence and persons 47
adjudicated as mentally defective;
• require states, as a condition of federal assistance, as well as federal agencies like
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to establish administrative relief
procedures under which a person who has been adjudicated mental defective 48
could apply to have his firearms possession and transfer eligibility restored;
• authorize additional appropriations for grant programs to help states, courts, and
local governments establish or improve automated record systems; and
• prohibit the FBI from collecting any fees for such background checks.
H.R. 2640 was introduced by Representative Carolyn McCarthy and co-sponsored by
Representative John Dingell. As passed by the House, by a voice vote, on June 13, 2007, H.R.
control. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved similar, but not identical, NICS
improvement amendments as part of the School Safety and Law Enforcement Improvement Act
of 2004 on August 2, 2007, and reported this bill on September 21, 2007 (S. 2084; S.Rept. 110-
The Senate Judiciary Committee included four other measures in S. 2084. With some
modification, those measures included the School Safety Improvements Act (S. 1217), the Equity
in Law Enforcement Act (S. 1448), the PRECAUTION Act (S. 1521), the Terrorist Hoax
Improvements Act (S. 735), and the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2007 (LEOSA, S.
NICS amendments, Senator Coburn reportedly placed a hold on that legislation.
In addition, some opposition to NICS improvement amendments had coalesced around an
assertion made by Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America that, under these amendments, any 52
veteran who was or had been diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was
47 Under 27 CFR 478.11, the term “adjudicated as mental defective” includes a determination by a court, board,
commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness,
incompetency, condition, or disease (1) is a danger to himself or others, or (2) lacks the mental capacity to manage his
own affairs. The term also includes (1) a finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case and (2) those persons found
incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to articles 50a and 72b
of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. §850a, 876(b).
48 Federal law authorizes the Attorney General to consider applications from prohibited persons for relief from
disqualification (18 U.S.C. §925(c)). Since FY1993, however, Congress has attached an appropriations rider on the
ATF salaries and expenses account that prohibits the expenditure of any funding under that account to process such
49 Jonathan Weisman, “Democrats, NRA Reach Deal on Background-Check Bill,” Washington Post, June 10, 2007, p.
50 David Rogers, “Democrats Stall on Gun-Records Bill: Despite Support, Background-Check Measure Staggers in
Senate Amid Infighting,” Wall Street Journal, September 21, 2007, p. A6.
51 Seth Stern, “Coburn Blocks Gun Background-Check Bill, Citing Concerns About Privacy, Spending,” CQ Today,
September 25, 2007.
52 PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after one has been through a traumatic event. Symptoms may manifest
soon after the trauma, or may be delayed. For further information, see U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National
Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Fact Sheet, available at
found to be a “danger to himself or others would have his gun rights taken away ... forever.”53
Under current law, however, any veteran or other VA beneficiary who is adjudicated or
determined to be mental defective, because he poses a danger to himself or others, or is incapable
of conducting his day-to-day affairs, is ineligible to possess a firearm. A diagnosis of PTSD in
and of itself is not a disqualifying factor for the purposes of gun control under the NICS
improvement amendments or previous law. Under the enacted NICS improvement amendments,
VA beneficiaries who have been determined to be mental defective could appeal for
administrative relief and possibly have their gun rights restored if they could demonstrate that
they were no longer afflicted by a disqualifying condition.
On June 26, 2008, in full committee markup, Senator Burr successfully amended the Veterans’
Medical Personnel Recruitment and Retention Act of 2008 (S. 2969) with language that would
provide that “a veteran, surviving spouse, or child who is mentally incapacitated, deemed
mentally incompetent, or experiencing an extended loss of consciousness shall not be considered
adjudicated as a mental defective” for purposes of the Gun Control Act, “without the order or
finding of a judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority of competent jurisdiction that such
veteran, surviving spouse, or child is a danger to him or herself or others.”
Under 27 CFR §478.11, the term “adjudicated as a mental defective” includes a determination by
a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked
subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease (1) is a danger to
himself or others, or (2) lacks the mental capacity to manage his own affairs. The term also
includes (1) a finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case and (2) those persons found
incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant
to articles 50a and 72b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. §§850a, 876(b).
This definition of “mental defective” was promulgated by the ATF in a final rule published on 54
June 27, 1997. In the final rule, the ATF noted that the VA had commented on the “proposed
rulemaking” and had correctly interpreted that “adjudicated as a mental defective” includes a
person who is found to be “mentally incompetent” by the Veterans Benefit Administration
(VBA). Under veterans law, an individual is considered “mentally incompetent” if he or she lacks
the mental capacity to contract or manage his or her own affairs for reasons related to injury or 55
disease (under 38 CFR § 3.353). In a proposed rulemaking, the ATF opined that the inclusion of
“mentally incompetent” in the definition of “mental defective” was wholly consistent with the 56
legislative history of the 1968 Gun Control Act. Reportedly, the VA could have been the only
federal agency that had promulgated a definition like “mentally incompetent” that overlapped 57
with the term “mental defective.”
53 Larry Pratt, “Veterans Disarmament Act To Bar Vets From Owning Guns,” September 23, 2007, available at
54 Federal Register, vol. 62, no. 124, June 27, 1997, p. 34634.
55 Federal Register, vol. 61, no. 174, September 6, 1996, p. 47095.
57 Personal communication with Compensation and Pension Program staff, Department of Veterans Affairs, July 9,
In November 1998, the VBA provided the FBI with disqualifying records on 88,898 VA
beneficiaries, whom VA rating specialists had determined to be “mentally incompetent” based on 58
medical evidence that they were incapable of managing their own affairs. Thus, a fiduciary (or
designated payee) was appointed for them. During the determination process, beneficiaries were
notified that the VA was proposing to rate them “mentally incompetent,” and they were able to 59
submit evidence to the contrary if they wished. This determination process is still followed 60
today at the VA.
Interestingly enough, the Veterans Medical Administration has not submitted any disqualifying
records on VA beneficiaries to the FBI for inclusion in NICS for any medical/psychiatric reason
(like PTSD), unless those veterans had been involuntarily committed under a state court order to a
VA medical facility because they posed a danger to themselves or others. In those cases, the state
in which the court resides would submit the disqualifying record to the FBI, if such a submission 61
would be appropriate and permissible under state law.
Nevertheless, the decision by the VA to submit VBA records on “mentally incompetent” veterans
to the FBI for inclusion in the NICS mental defective file generated some degree of controversy 62
in 1999 and 2000. Critics of this policy underscored that veterans routinely consented to
mentally incompetent determinations so that a fiduciary (designated payee) could be appointed
for them. Those critics contended that to take away a veteran’s Second Amendment rights without
his foreknowledge was improper. They also pointed out that no other federal agencies were
providing similar disqualifying records to the FBI. This controversy subsided, but it reemerged
when Congress considered the NICS improvement amendments (described above). Also, as of
April 30, 2008, VA records make up about one-fifth (or 21.0%) of all the 552,800 federal and
state records in the NICS mental defective file. Senator Burr has introduced a bill, the Veterans nd
2 Amendment Protection Act (S. 3167), that would achieve the same ends as his amendment to
On July 9, 2008, the House passed legislation that would make changes related to the
administration of the public housing program (H.R. 6216). The public housing program is
administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through local public
housing authorities (PHAs). The bill includes a provision that would prohibit the HUD Secretary
from accepting as reasonable any management or related fees charged by a PHA for enforcing
61 For further information on the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse for the purposes of gun control, see
Donna M. Norris, M.D., et al., “Firearm Laws, Patients, and the Roles of Psychiatrists,” American Journal of
Psychiatry, August 2006, pp. 1392-1396.
62 John Dougherty, “VA Give FBI Health Secrets: Veterans’ Records Could Block Firearms Purchases,” WorldNet
Daily.com, June 22, 2000; and “VA Defends Vets’ Records Transfers to NICS System,” New Gun Week, vol. 35, issue
1650, July 10, 2000, p. 1.
any provision of a lease agreement that requires tenants to register firearms that are otherwise
legally possessed, or prohibits their possession outright. On the other hand, the bill would allow
PHAs to terminate the lease of any tenant who was found illegally using a firearm.
The gun-related provision in H.R. 6216 reportedly reflects a compromise.63 The original language
restricting fees for enforcing gun restrictions was included in a motion to recommit offered during
floor debate on a similar public housing bill (H.R. 3521). That bill was not approved by the
House, but was sent back to the House Financial Services Committee for further consideration. A
new version of the public housing bill (H.R. 5829) was introduced that included language from
the motion to recommit, but it did not include the lease termination proviso, and the bill received
no further consideration.
During consideration of a public land bill (S. 2483), Senator Coburn offered, but later withdrew,
an amendment (S.Amdt. 3967) that would have overturned federal regulations that prohibit 64
visitors to parks and wildlife refuges managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and Fish and 65
Wildlife Service (FWS) from possessing operable and loaded firearms. While these regulations
were last revised substantively in 1981 and 1983, similar firearm restrictions go back to the 1930s
in an effort to curb poaching and other illegal activities. There are exceptions for hunting and
marksmanship under current law. Since the 1980s, however, many states have passed laws that
allow persons to carry concealed handguns for personal protection. Although 48 states have
“concealed carry” laws, only 24 of those states reportedly allow concealed handguns to be carried 66
in state parks.
On April 30, 2008, at the urging of pro-gun Members of Congress in part, the Department of
Interior (DOI) published proposed regulations that would authorize the possession of loaded and
concealed firearms, as long as carrying those firearms in that fashion would be legal under the 67
laws of the states where the public lands are located. While the initial comment period was 68
scheduled to end on June 30, 2008, it was extended until August 8, 2008. DOI reports receiving
approximately 90,000 comments on those proposed regulations.
Senator Coburn has also introduced a bill, the Protecting Americans from Violent Crime Act of
Supporters of those proposals point to a reported rise in illegal activities and violent crime on
public lands. Opponents argue that the risk of a violent crime encounter in National Parks and 69
Wildlife Refuges is negligible. They argue further that allowing others to carry loaded and
concealed handguns on their person would make them less safe.
63 Seth Stern, “House to Try Again on Public Housing Bill,” CQ Today, July 8, 2008.
64 36 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2.
65 50 Code of Federal Regulations Part 27.
66 Warren Richey, “Bid to Allow Guns in National Parks,” Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 2008, p. 3.
67 73 Federal Register 23388.
68 73 Federal Register 39272.
69 CRS compilation of FBI Uniform Crime Reports data show that from 2002 through 2006 there were 15 murders and
non-negligent homicides reported by the FWS and 48 reported by the NPS. However, FWS reports all crimes
encountered by its agents, whether or not they occurred on refuge land. It is difficult to determine how many of the 15
On September 5, 2007, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported the Law Enforcement Officers
Safety Act of 2007 (S. 376; S.Rept. 110-150). This bill was introduced by Senator Leahy, Chair of
the Judiciary Committee. Representative Forbes has introduced a similar bill (H.R. 2726). As
described above, the language of S. 376 was incorporated into S. 2084 when that bill was
reported on September 21, 2007 (S.Rept. 110-183). That language would amend the Law
Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA, P.L. 108-277), which authorizes certain qualified
active-duty and retired police officers to carry concealed firearms across state lines.
The Senate-reported LEOSA amendments would (1) clarify that certain AMTRAK and executive
branch law enforcement officers are eligible for concealed carry privileges under P.L. 108-277,
(2) reduce the length of service criterium for eligibility under that law from 15 to 10 years, and th
(3) clarify other provisions of the law related to certification and credentialing. In the 109
Congress, the Senate amended H.R. 1751 with similar LEOSA provisions and passed that
Representative Todd Tiahrt offered an amendment that placed several funding restrictions and
conditions on ATF and the FBI during full committee markup of the FY2004 DOJ appropriations
bill (H.R. 2799). While modified, those restrictions were included in the Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2004 (P.L. 108-199). The Tiahrt language:
• prohibits the use of any funding appropriated for ATF to disclose firearm trace or
multiple handgun sales report data for any purpose other than supporting “bona
fide” criminal investigation or agency licensing proceeding,
• prohibits the use of any funding appropriated for ATF to issue new regulations
that would require licensed dealers to conduct physical inventories of their
• requires the next-day destruction of approved Brady background check records.
Of these limitations, the first dealing with disclosure of firearm trace or multiple handgun sales
report data is probably the most contentious. A coalition of U.S. mayors, including New York
City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, maintain that they should have access to such data in order to
identify out-of-state federally licensed gun dealers who wittingly or unwittingly sell large
numbers of firearms to illegal gun traffickers. Despite this opposition, Congress has subsequently
included the Tiahrt language in DOJ appropriations measures for FY2005 through FY2008.
For FY2008, the Tiahrt limitation on firearm trace and multiple handgun sales report data debate,
when the Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee did not include this limitation in its draft bill.
Senator Richard Shelby amended the FY2008 CJS appropriations bill (which became S. 1745)
with similar, but modified, limitations in full committee markup. Similar language had been
included in the House-passed CJS appropriations bill (H.R. 3093), and was included in the
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-161; H.R. 2764), into which the CJS
murders occurred on refuges.
appropriations were folded.70 The modified FY2008 limitation includes new language that
authorizes ATF to
• share firearms trace data with tribal and foreign law enforcement agencies and
federal agencies for national intelligence purposes;
• share firearms trace data with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to
exchange among themselves; and
• release aggregate statistics on firearms traffickers and trafficking channels, or
firearms misuse, felons, and trafficking investigations.
The FY2008 limitation, however, continues to prohibit the release of firearms trace data for the
purposes of suing gun manufacturers and dealers. Moreover, the limitation includes the phrase,
“in fiscal year 2008 and thereafter,” which makes the limitation permanent law according to the 71
Government Accountability Office.
The 110th Congress has considered legislation that either funds the ATF or authorizes increased
appropriations for that law enforcement agency.
The ATF enforces federal criminal law related to the manufacture, importation, and distribution of
alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives. ATF works both independently and through
partnerships with industry groups, international, state and local governments, and other federal
agencies to investigate and reduce crime involving firearms and explosives, acts of arson, and
illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products.
From FY1999 to FY2008, Congress increased ATF appropriations from $541.6 million to nearly
$1.008 billion, an increase of 86%. The FY2008 funding includes $984.1 million for salaries and
expenses and $23.5 million for construction. For the same 10 years, with some fluctuation, ATF
staffing increased from 3,969 to 4,880 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, a 23% increase.
Despite increased funding, the acting ATF Director, Michael Sullivan, recently testified before
Congress that ATF is currently operating under a $37 million shortfall, as funding for ATF salaries
and expenses was not increased for FY2008. Meanwhile, Congress has provided an additional $4
million in the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-252) for ATF operations in Iraq.
For FY2009, the Administration has requested $1.028 billion and 4,942 FTE positions for ATF
salaries and expenses, or $44 million and 62 FTE positions more than the amounts appropriated
for FY2008 ($984 million, not counting the $4 million supplemental). According to ATF, the
70 For further information, see CRS Report RS22458, Gun Control: Statutory Disclosure Limitations on ATF Firearms
Trace Data and Multiple Handgun Sales Reports, by William J. Krouse.
71 U.S. General Accounting Office, “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—Prohibition in the 2008
Consolidated Appropriations Act,” July 15, 2008, available at
72 For further information, see CRS Report RL34514, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
(ATF): Budget and Operations, by William J. Krouse.
FY2009 request would be allocated among ATF budget decision units in the following amounts:
$740 million (72%) for firearms compliance and investigations, $267.2 million (26%) for arson
and explosives investigations, and $20.6 million (2%) for alcohol and tobacco diversion. The
House Appropriations Committee-approved draft FY2009 Commerce, Justice, Science, and
Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill would provide $1.054 billion million for ATF, $70
million (4.6%) more than the FY2008 enacted level and $26 million (2.6%) more than the
FY2009 request. The Senate-reported bill (S. 3182) would provide $1.043 billion, $35 million
(3.5%) more than the FY2008 enacted level and $15 million (1.5%) over the FY2009 request.
On the Southwest border with Mexico, firearms violence has spiked sharply in recent years as
drug trafficking organizations have reportedly vied for control of key smuggling corridors into the
United States. In March 2008, President Felipe Calderón called on the United States to increase
its efforts to suppress gun trafficking from the United States into Mexico. As part of the Merida 73
Initiative, the House has passed a bill (H.R. 6028) that would authorize to be appropriated over
three years, for FY2008 through FY2010, a total of $73.5 million to increase ATF resources
dedicated to stemming illegal gun trafficking into Mexico. Similar authorizations are included in
S. 2867, H.R. 5863, and H.R. 5869.
In the 109th Congress, gun control-related legislative action included (1) passage of two laws; (2)
the approval of four bills by the House Judiciary committee, one of which the House passed; and
(3) consideration of several amendments to, and provisions in, appropriations and crime
The 109th Congress reconsidered and passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act 74th
(P.L. 109-92). This legislation (S. 397) was very similar to a bill considered in the 108 75
Congress. P.L. 109-92 prohibits certain types of lawsuits against firearm manufacturers and
dealers to recover damages related to the criminal or unlawful use of their products (firearms and 76
ammunition) by other persons. The Senate passed S. 397 on July 29, 2005, by a recorded vote of
65-31 (Recorded Vote Number 219). The House Judiciary Committee had previously reported a
73 For further information, see CRS Report RS22837, Merida Initiative: U.S. Anticrime and Counterdrug Assistance for
Mexico and Central America, by Colleen W. Cook and Clare Ribando Seelke.
74 119 Stat. 2095, October 26, 2005.
75 In the 108th Congress, the House passed a similar “gun industry liability” bill (H.R. 1036). The Senate considered a
similar bill (S. 1805) and amended it with several gun control provisions, but this bill did not pass.
76 For further information, see CRS Report RS22074, Limiting Tort Liability of Gun Manufacturers and Gun Sellers:
Legal Analysis of P.L. 109-92 (2005), by Henry Cohen.
similar bill (H.R. 800; H.Rept. 109-124) on June 14. The House considered and passed the
Senate-passed bill (S. 397) by a recorded vote of 283-144 (Roll no. 534) on October 20, 2005.
It is notable that several amendments passed by the Senate in the 108th Congress were also
reconsidered and passed—for example, an amendment offered by Senator Herb Kohl requiring
that a child safety lock be provided with newly transferred handguns, and another offered by
Senator Larry Craig increasing penalties for using armor-piercing handgun ammunition in the
commission of a crime of violence or drug trafficking. However, other amendments related to
assault weapons or gun shows that were passed by the Senate in the previous Congress were not
considered. It is notable that House-passed legislation (H.R. 5672) included a provision that
would have blocked implementation of the child safety lock provision sponsored by Senator
As described above, P.L. 109-92 includes a provision that requires a child safety lock be provided 77
with newly transferred handguns. The House passed an amendment, offered by Representative
Marilyn Musgrave, to the FY2007 DOJ appropriations bill (H.R. 5672) that would have
prohibited the expenditure of any funding provided under that bill for the purposes of enforcing
the child safety lock provision in P.L. 109-92. The House passed H.R. 5672 on June 29, 2006.
The Senate reported H.R. 5672, but no further actions was taken on that bill.
The “Armor Piercing Ammunition” Ban (P.L. 99-408, 1986, amended in P.L. 103-322, 1994)
prohibits the manufacture, importation, and delivery of handgun ammunition composed of certain
metal substances and certain full-jacketed ammunition. As described above, P.L. 109-92 includes
provisions that (1) increase penalties for using armor-piercing handgun ammunition in the
commission of a crime of violence or drug trafficking and (2) require the Attorney General to
submit a report (within two years of enactment) on “armor-piercing” ammunition based on certain
performance characteristics, including barrel length and amount of propellant (gun powder).
In the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007 (P.L. 109-295), Congress
included a provision (§ 557) that amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency 78
Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. § 5207). This enacted provision prohibits federal officials from
seizing or authorizing the seizure of any firearm from private persons during a major disaster or
emergency, if possession of that firearm was not already prohibited under federal or state law. It
also forbids the same officials from prohibiting the possession of any firearm that is not otherwise
prohibited. Also, the law bans any prohibition on carrying firearms by persons who are otherwise
permitted to legally carry such firearms, because those persons are working under a federal
agency, or the control of an agency, providing disaster or emergency relief.
77 In addition, the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Appropriations Act, 1999 (P.L. 105-277), requires all federal
firearm licensees to offer for sale gun storage and safety devices.
78 120 Stat. 1391, October 4, 2006.
Section 557 of P.L. 109-295 is very similar to bills (H.R. 5013/S. 2599) that were introduced by
Representative Bobby Jindal and Senator David Vitter. Those bills addressed firearms seizures 79
that occurred in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. On July 13, 2006, the Senate passed a
related amendment, offered by Senator David Vitter, to the Department of Homeland Security
appropriations bill (H.R. 5441) by a recorded vote of 68-32 (Record Vote Number 191), and the
Senate passed that bill on the same day. On July 25, 2006, the House Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure ordered reported H.R. 5013 (H.Rept. 109-596), and the House
passed that bill on the same day by a recorded vote of 322-99 (Roll no. 401). While H.R. 5013
received no further action, the language of the Vitter amendment was included in P.L. 109-295, as 80
The House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee approved four
firearms-related bills, which were subsequently considered by the full committee. Two of those
bills were ordered reported. One was passed by the House.
H.R. 5092 was introduced by Representative Howard Coble, chair of the House Judiciary
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, and Representative Robert Scott, the
subcommittee’s ranking Minority Member, on April 5, 2006. Among other things, the bill would
have amended Gun Control Act provisions governing the suspension and revocation of federal
licenses for firearms dealers, manufacturers, and importers by establishing a graduated scale of
fines and penalties for administrative violations. For serious violations, however, revocation
would have remained an option. It would have also barred ATF from initiating administrative
enforcement actions for violations that are more than five years old, except for cases involved the
intentional obstruction of discovery of such violations by the licensee.
Proponents for this proposal argue that these provisions would allow federal firearms licensees
greater opportunity to address non-substantive recordkeeping issues that under current law could
have led to the revocation of their licenses. Opponents argue that relaxing such provisions would
weakened ATF authority and efforts to reduce the number of “kitchen table top” dealers, who
were not substantively engaged in the business and, hence, ineligible for such licenses. H.R. 5092
was approved by the Crime subcommittee on May 3, 2006. The House Judiciary Committee
ordered this bill reported on September 7, and a written report was filed on September 21
(H.Rept. 109-672). The House passed this bill on September 26, 2006, by a recorded vote of 277-
79 Regarding those seizures, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others maintained that state “emergency
powers” do not trump the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The NRA and the Second Amendment
Foundation filed a joint lawsuit in federal court seeking injunctive relief from those seizures. Pursuant to a court order,
New Orleans authorities were directed to cease seizing firearms from citizens, who had otherwise committed no
criminal violations, and to return already confiscated firearms. NRA v. Nagin, Civil Decision No. 05-20,000 (E.D. La.
September 23, 2005).
80 120 Stat. 1391, § 557.
H.R. 5092 included provisions that would have required the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General to
conduct a study of ATF firearms enforcement operations at gun shows and would have required
the Attorney General to establish guidelines governing such future operations. The House
Judiciary Crime subcommittee held two oversight hearings examining ATF firearms enforcement 81
operations at guns shows in Richmond, Virginia, in 2005. ATF agents reportedly provided state
and local law enforcement officers with confidential information from background check forms
(ATF Form 4473s), so that those officers could perform residency checks on persons who had
otherwise legally purchased firearms at those gun shows. Questions were also raised as to
whether ATF agents had profiled gun purchasers at those gun shows on the basis of race,
ethnicity, and gender.
In addition, according to testimony heard from both gun show participants and organizers, as well
as ATF officials, firearms were seized from some of the gun purchasers, and some of those
seizures might have been illegal. ATF officials conceded that those Richmond area gun show 82
operations “were not implemented in a manner consistent with ATF’s best practices,” and that
guidance had subsequently been provided to ATF field offices on such matters.
H.R. 5005 was introduced by Representative Lamar Smith on March 16, 2006. It was the topic of
a hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland
Security on March 28, 2006. This bill was approved by the subcommittee on May 18, 2006. The
House Judiciary Committee began considering this bill on September 7 and ordered it reported on
September 13, 2006. However, a written report was never filed, and no further action was taken
on this bill. It is notable that H.R. 5005 included several provisions related to firearms trace data 83
and multiple handgun sales reports that are opposed by mayors in several major cities.
Of the provisions in H.R. 5005, Section 9 was the most controversial. It would have codified
limitations on the disclosure of firearms trace data and multiple handgun sales reports for any
purpose other than a bona fide criminal investigation. Similar limitations were included in the 85
ATF appropriations language since FY2004. Proponents for Section 9 contend that the business
81 U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and
Homeland Security, Oversight Hearing on the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) Parts
I & II: Gun Show Enforcement,” February 15 and 28, 2006.
82 Testimony of ATF Assistant Director for Field Operations Michael R. Bouchard, U.S. Congress, House of
Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Oversight
Hearing on the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) Part ll: Gun Show Enforcement,” thnd
109 Cong., 2 sess., February 28, 2006.
83 Sewell Chan, “15 Mayors Meet in New York to Fight Against Gun Violence,” New York Times, April 26, 2006, p.
84 For further information, see CRS Report RS22458, Gun Control: Statutory Disclosure Limitations on ATF Firearms
Trace Data and Multiple Handgun Sales Reports, by William J. Krouse.
85 For FY2004, the limitation on the use of ATF firearm trace data was inserted into the ATF appropriations language
by an amendment offered by Representative Todd Tiahrt in full committee markup.
records of federal firearms licensees should be confidential. They argue that access to these
records is only authorized under federal law for the purposes of conducting ATF trace requests in
order to solve crimes. They argue further that it was never intended that firearm trace data should
be used to support civil public nuisance lawsuits against firearms manufacturers and dealers, such 86
as a lawsuit pursued by New York City.
Opponents of Section 9, like Mayor Bloomberg, counter that every tool is needed to “crackdown”
on irresponsible gun dealers by analyzing firearm trace data on a regional and national basis, so
that federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities can be informed of the source and 87
market areas for “crime guns.” They contend further that Section 9, if enacted, would have
precluded such analysis. Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Steven R. Rothman
introduced identical bills (S. 2460/H.R. 5033) to repeal the FY2006 appropriations limitation on
ATF sharing firearms trace data and multiple handgun sales reports. Senator Charles Schumer th
introduced a similar bill (S. 2629) and has reintroduced that bill (S. 77) in the 110 Congress.
Regarding multiple handgun sales, section 7 of H.R. 5005 would have eliminated a provision that
provides for the transfer of multiple handgun sale reports made by gun dealers to the Attorney
General to state and local law enforcement authorities. Proponents argue that state and local
authorities have mishandled such confidential records and often ignore certain certification
requirements set out in the Gun Control Act. Opponents counter that those reports often lead to
illegal gun traffickers and without them vital leads would go undiscovered.
Section 8 of H.R. 5005 would have prohibited the Attorney General from electronically retrieving
the records of gun dealers who had gone out of business by name or any personal identification. It
is notable that “out-of-business” records have been converted from paper to a digital format at the
ATF National Tracing Center. Proponents argue that such a prohibition would protect the privacy
of former federal firearms licensees, and that the prohibition would not extend to searches of
those records by firearms serial number. Opponents counter that, if available, those records
should be analyzed further to uncover wider patterns of gun trafficking and other illegal activities.
Section 3 of H.R. 5005 would have lifted restrictions on the possession, transfer, and importation
of machine guns, and certain other shotguns and rifles, for contractors providing national security
services to the United States government and training related to such services, and for
manufacturers for test, research, design, and development purposes. Section 10 would have
relaxed importation restrictions on barrels, frames, and receivers for firearms other than handguns
for repair and replacement parts. Those proposals are generally supported by Class III gun dealers
86 For further information, see City of New York v. Beretta U.S.A., No. 00-CV-3641, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24452
(E.D.N.Y. April 27, 2006).
87 Sewell Chan, “15 Mayors Meet in New York to Fight Against Gun Violence,” New York Times, April 26, 2006, p.
who are licensed under the National Firearms Act of 1934 to deal in machine guns and other
destructive devices, which are more tightly regulated under federal law than other firearms.
Finally, section 5 of H.R. 5005 would have codified a limitation in the DOJ appropriations acts
for the past eight years (FY1999 through FY2006) that prohibits the Attorney General from
charging any tax or fee for any background check made for the purposes of determining firearms th
possession/transfer eligibility. In the 110 Congress, the House-passed H.R. 2640 and Senate-
reported S. 2084 would also codify the background check fee prohibition.
H.R. 1384 was introduced by Representative Phil Gingrey on March 17, 2005. This bill would
have amended the Gun Control Act to allow federal firearms licensees to transfer any firearm to
out-of-state residents as long as those transfers complied with the laws of both states, that is, the
laws of the state in which the licensee’s business was located and the laws of the state in which
the licensee’s customer resided. Under current law, licensees are permitted to transfer long guns
to out-of-state residents only if such transfers are made in person (face-to-face). H.R. 1384 would
have allowed federal firearms licensees to transfer handguns to out-of-state residents as well.
In addition, H.R. 1384 would have allowed federal firearms licensees to transfer any firearm to
other federal firearms licensees at out-of-state gun shows or similar events as long as those
transfers complied with the laws of both states. Under current law, federal firearms licensees are
permitted to display and take orders for firearms at out-of-state gun shows, but they must return
to their business locations to initiate the subsequent transfers of those firearms.
Proponents argue that this proposal would eliminate federal requirements on shipping such
firearms interstate and reduce the risk that such firearms would be stolen during shipment.
Opponents counter that relaxing existing federal requirements regarding the interstate transfer of
handguns could necessitate dual-state background checks. In addition, in the view of the
proposals opponents, the relaxation of these requirements could be exploited by illegal firearms
traffickers. H.R. 1384 was approved in subcommittee markup on May 18, 2006, but no further
action was taken on this bill.
H.R. 1415 was introduced by Representative Carolyn McCarthy and co-sponsored by
Representative John Dingell. Among other things, this proposal would have (1) amended the
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to require federal agencies to provide, and the Attorney
General to secure, any government records with information relevant to determining the
eligibility of a person to receive a firearm for inclusion in NICS; (2) established incentives to
states to make available to the Attorney General certain records that would disqualify persons
from acquiring a firearm, particularly those records that relate to convictions for misdemeanor
crimes of domestic violence and persons adjudicated as mentally defective; and (3) authorized
appropriations for grant programs to help states, courts, and local governments establish or
improve such automated record systems. H.R. 1415 was approved in subcommittee markup on
May 18, 2006, but no further action was taken on this bill.88 Representative McCarthy th
reintroduced this bill (H.R. 297) in the 110 Congress. As described above, a modified bill (H.R.
2640) was introduced and passed by the House on June 13, 2007. Congress passed this bill, and it
was enacted (P.L. 110-180).
Gun control-related provisions were either included in, or amended to, appropriations and crime th
legislation in the 109 Congress.
Representative Souder reintroduced a bill to overturn the District of Columbia (DC) handgun ban 89
(H.R. 1288), which was previously passed by the House. Senator Hutchison introduced a
companion measure (S. 1082). In addition, during consideration of the FY2006 DC
appropriations bill (H.R. 3058), the House passed an amendment offered by Representative Mark
Souder that would have prohibited the use of funding provided under that bill to enforce the DC
code’s trigger lock requirement on June 30, 2005, by a recorded vote: 259-161, 1 present (Roll
no. 349). Although there was some support in the Senate for including a similar provision in the
funding bill considered by that body, such a provision was not included in P.L. 109-115, the
omnibus funding measure into which the FY2006 DC appropriations bill was folded.
The Children’s Safety Act of 2005 (H.R. 3132) was amended on September 14, 2005, to include a
provision that would have prohibited the transfer or possession of a firearm to or by a person
convicted of a sex offense against a minor. This amendment was offered by Representative
Jerrold Nadler. H.R. 3132 was passed by the House on the same date, but no further action was
taken on this bill. During consideration of H.R. 5005, however, the House Judiciary Committee
amended that bill with language of the Nadler amendment.
The House-passed Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act of 2005 (H.R. 1751) was
amended on November 9, 2005, by Representative Steve King to include a provision that would
have authorized any federal judge, magistrate, U.S. Attorney, or any DOJ officer who represents
the United States in a court of law to carry firearms for self-defense. Similar provisions were
included in the House-passed Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2006 (H.R. 4472), but they
88 During the 107th Congress, the House passed a similar bill entitled Our Lady of Peace Act (H.R. 4757), but no further
action was taken on it before that Congress adjourned. In the 108th Congress, Senator Daschle introduced the Justice
Enhancement and Domestic Security Act of 2003 (S. 22), which included the Our Lady of Peace Act (Title V, Subtitle th
B), and Senator Charles Schumer introduced a similar bill (S. 1706). Neither bill was acted on, however, in the 108
89 In the 108th Congress, the House passed a bill (H.R. 3193) introduced by Representative Souder that would have
repealed the “DC handgun ban” and other limitations on firearms possession on September 29, 2004 by a recorded
vote: 250-171, 1 present (Roll no. 477). A similar measure was introduced in the Senate (S. 1414) by Senator Orrin
were not included in the Senate-passed version of this bill, which was subsequently passed in the
House and signed into law by the President (P.L. 109-248). Representative Phil English
introduced a similar bill (H.R. 4477) as well.
The Senate, in turn, amended H.R. 1751 with an amendment in the nature of a substitute, and
passed that bill on December 6, 2006. The Senate-passed version included similar provisions
regarding firearms and federal judicial officials, as well as amendments to the Law Enforcement
Officers Safety Act (LEOSA, P.L. 108-277) that would have clarified and expanded this law,
which gives concealed carry privileges to qualified on-duty and retired law enforcement officers.
Other House-passed provisions, however, related to mandatory minimum sentences and the death
penalty were not included in the Senate bill, and no further action was taken on H.R. 1751.
In the 110th Congress, as described above, similar provisions that would authorize certain federal
judicial officials to carry firearms for self-defense were not included in the Senate-passed court
security bill (S. 378), nor were they included in the House-passed bill (H.R. 660). Regarding
LEOSA, however, Senator Leahy has included amendments to that Act in a stand-alone measure
(S. 376), which was reported by the Judiciary Committee (S.Rept. 110-150) on September 5,
2007. The provisions of S. 376 were also folded into S. 2084 in the reported version of that bill
For FY2005, Congress appropriated $882 million for ATF (P.L. 108-447; P.L. 109-13). According
to DOJ, this amount funded 5,073 positions, including 2,446 agents and 785 industry operations
investigators and industry operations specialists, as well as 1,842 other positions. For FY2006,
Congress appropriated nearly $936 million for ATF. This amount reflects certain department - and
government-wide rescissions in P.L. 109-108 and P.L. 109-148, as well as supplemental
appropriations. This amount funded 5,128 positions, including 2,509 agents and 797 industry
operations investigators and industry operations specialists, as well as 1,822 other positions.
For FY2007, the Administration requested $860 million for ATF; Congress provided $984 million
in the FY2007 Continuing Resolution (P.L. 110-5). This amount is anticipated to fund 5,148
positions, including 2,502 agents and 797 industry operations investigators and specialists, as
well as 1,849 other positions. For FY2008, the Administration’s request includes $1.014 billion
and 5,032 positions for ATF (a net reduction of 116 positions, compared with FY2007). The
Senate-passed CJS appropriations bill (S. 1745) includes $1.049 billion for ATF’s FY2008
appropriation, an increase of $35 million over the Administration’s budget request and $65
million more than the FY2007 appropriation. The House-passed CJS appropriations bill (H.R.
3093) would provide the same amount as requested by the President, $30 million more than the
The Administration’s FY2007 request was based on a legislative proposal that would have
authorized an explosives user fee for criminal background checks required under the Safe
Explosives Act (P.L. 107-296). The Administration projected that this fee would have generated
$120 million in off-setting receipts in FY2007 for ATF. The House-passed DOJ appropriations
bill (H.R. 5672; H.Rept. 109-520) would have provided $950 million. The Senate-reported bill
(H.R. 5672; S.Rept. 109-280) would have provided $985 million. The House bill included a
provision that would have authorized an explosives fee that was projected to generate $30 million
in off-setting receipts. The Senate bill did not include a similar provision. No final action was
taken on H.R. 5672, and no provision was included in the FY2007 Continuing Resolution for
such a fee. Furthermore, the Administration’s FY2008 request did not call for such a fee.
In the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-
162), Congress authorized to be appropriated for ATF the following amounts: $924 million for
FY2006, $961 million for FY2007, $999 million for FY2008, and $1.039 billion for FY2009.
Also, on May 11, 2005, the Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005 (H.R. 1279)
was amended with a provision offered by Representative Diane Watson that would have
authorized additional appropriations to hire 100 agents and 100 inspectors at ATF to be assigned
to new “High-Intensity Gang Activity Areas.” The House subsequently passed H.R. 1279, but no
further action was taken on this bill.
Other salient firearm-related issues that continue to receive attention include (1) retaining Brady
background check records for approved firearm transactions to enhance terrorist screening, (2)
more strictly regulating certain long-range .50 caliber rifles, (3) further regulating certain firearms
previously defined in statute as “assault weapons,” and (4) requiring background checks for
private firearm transfers at gun shows.
Beginning in FY1999, Congress has prohibited the collection of any fee for firearms-related 91
background checks made through the FBI-administered NICS in DOJ appropriations. Beginning
in FY2004, that provision also included language (originally added by the Tiahrt amendment) to
require the next-day destruction of approved background check records. The issue of approved
Brady background check record retention has been contentious since the inception of the FBI-
administered NICS, because a provision in the Brady Act (§ 103(i)) prohibits the establishment of
any electronic registry of firearms, firearm owners, or approved firearm transactions and
Nevertheless, under Attorney General Janet Reno, DOJ proposed a rule that would have allowed 92
such records to be maintained for up to six months for audit purposes on October 30, 1998. The
90 For further information, see CRS Report RL33011, Terrorist Screening and Brady Background Checks for Firearms,
by William J. Krouse.
91 In the 110th Congress, the House-passed H.R. 2640 and Senate-reported S. 2084 include provisions that would
permanently codify the NICS fee prohibition (see discussion of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007
above). For FY2008, such a prohibition is also included on an annual basis in the House-passed and Senate-reported
CJS appropriations bills (H.R. 3093/S. 1745).
92 63 Federal Register 58303.
NRA challenged this proposed rule in federal court, arguing that retaining the approved records
was tantamount to a temporary registry. On July 11, 2000, the United States Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia found that nothing in the Brady Act prohibited the temporary retention 93
of information about lawful firearm transfers for certain audit purposes. On January 22, 2001, 94
DOJ promulgated a final rule that allowed such records to maintained for up to 90 days.
Attorney General John Ashcroft opposed this rule, however, and DOJ proposed another rule that 95
called for the next-day destruction of those files on July 6, 2001.
In July 2002, meanwhile, GAO reported that under Attorney General Reno, the FBI had
conducted “non routine” searches of the NICS audit log for law enforcement agencies to
determine whether a person, whom subsequent information showed was a prohibited person, had
been transferred a firearm within the previous 90 days. The FBI informed GAO that such
searches were routinely conducted but were a “secondary benefit” given that the audit log was
maintained primarily to check for system “accuracy, privacy, and performance.” In addition,
GAO reported that the next-day destruction of records would “adversely affect” other NICS
operations, including firearm-retrieval actions, NICS audit log checks for previous background
checks, verifications of NICS determinations for federal firearms licensees, and ATF inspections 96
of federal firearms licensees’ record keeping.
Despite those adverse affects, opponents of greater federal gun control viewed the non-routine
use of NICS records as beyond the scope of authority given the Attorney General under the Brady
Act. As described below, GAO reported that DOJ took steps to minimize the adverse affects of
the next-day destruction of those records, but in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks, additional issues regarding Brady background checks emerged.
Historically, terrorist watch list checks were not part of the Brady background check process,
because being a suspected or known terrorist was and is not a disqualifying factor for firearm
transfer/possession eligibility under federal or state law. As is the case today, to determine such
eligibility, FBI-NICS examiners check three databases maintained by the FBI. They include the
National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Interstate Identification Index (III), and the NICS
index. The NICS index includes disqualifying records on persons (1) dishonorably discharged
from the armed forces, (2) adjudicated mentally defective, or (3) convicted of certain serious
immigration violations. The III includes criminal history records for persons arrested and
convicted of felonies and misdemeanors. The NCIC includes law enforcement hot files on
fugitives and persons subject to restraining orders, among other persons. NCIC also includes a
“hot file” known as the Violent Gang and Terrorist Offender File (VGTOF). Prior to the 9/11
attacks, this file included limited information on known or suspected terrorists and gang
members. NICS examiners were not informed of VGTOF hits, as such information was not
considered relevant to determining firearms transfer/possession eligibility.
93 NRA v. Reno (No. 99-5270, 216 F. 3d 122; 2000 U.S. App. Lexis 15906).
94 66 Federal Register 6470.
95 66 Federal Register 35567.
96 For further information on these issues, see GAO, Gun Control: Potential Effects of Next-Day Destruction of NICS
Background Check Records, GAO-02-653, July 2002.
Following the 9/11 attacks, FBI officials reportedly searched approved firearm transaction records
in the then NICS 90-day audit log for 186 illegal alien detainees. Two were found to have been 97
improperly cleared to be transferred firearms. Upon learning of this practice, however, then
Attorney General Ashcroft barred the FBI from searching the NICS audit log, maintaining that
the Brady Act prohibited the use of NICS as an electronic registry of firearms, dispositions, or 98
owners. Advocates of greater gun control opposed this shift in policy, arguing that law
enforcement and counterterrorism officials ought to have access to NICS records to further
ongoing terrorist and criminal investigations. As described above, however, gun rights advocates
successfully amended the FY2004 Justice appropriations to require the destruction of those
records within 24 hours. A similar requirement was enacted for FY2005 and FY2006 as well. It
was also been included in the House-passed and Senate-reported versions of the FY2007 DOJ
appropriations bill (H.R. 5672).
In February 2002, DOJ initiated a NICS transaction audit to determine whether prohibited aliens
(non-citizens) were being improperly transferred firearms. As part of this audit, NICS procedures
were changed, so that NICS examiners were informed of VGTOF hits. Under Homeland Security
Presidential Directive 6, moreover, the Administration initiated a broad-based review of the use of 99
watch lists, among other terrorist identification and screening mechanisms. In September 2003,
the FBI-administered Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) was established and work was begun to
improve and merge several watch lists maintained by U.S. government into a consolidated
Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). One of these “watch lists” was VGTOF. As part of those
efforts, TSDB lookout records from other agency watch lists were downloaded into VGTOF,
growing that file from 10,000 to more than 140,000 records. Effective February 2004, the FBI
officially changed its NICS operating procedures to inform NICS examiners of VGTOF hits for 100
known and suspected terrorists.
Under the new procedures in non-Point of Contact (non-POC) states, NICS staff validate
terrorism-related VGTOF hits by contacting TSC staff. The latter have greater access to
identifiers in terrorist files, with which known and suspected terrorists can be more positively
identified. In full and partial POC states, the law enforcement officials that conduct firearms-
related background checks under the Brady Act contact TSC staff directly. In the case of valid
hits, NICS staff delay the transactions for up to three business days and contact the FBI
Counterterrorism Division to allow field agents to check for prohibiting factors. If no prohibiting
factors are uncovered within this three-day period, NICS staff anonymize the transaction record
by deleting the subject’s identifying information. The firearms dealers may proceed with the
transaction at their discretion, but FBI counterterrorism officials continue to work the case for up
to 90 days. If they learn of a prohibiting factor within that 90-day period, they are able to contact
the NICS unit and de-anonymize the transaction record by filling in the subject’s identifying
fields. At the end of 90 days, if no prohibiting factor has been found, all records related to the
NICS transaction are destroyed.
97 Fox Butterfield, “Justice Dept. Bars Use of Gun Checks in Terror Inquiry: FBI Wants to See Files,” New York Times,
December 6, 2001, p. A1.
98 Subparagraph 103(i) of P.L. 103-159 (107 Stat. 1542).
99 For further information, see CRS Report RL32366, Terrorist Identification, Screening, and Tracking Under
Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6, by William J. Krouse.
100 Dan Eggen, “FBI Gets More Time on Gun Buys,” Washington Post, November 22, 2003, p. A05.
Senators Joseph Biden and Frank Lautenberg requested that GAO report on these new NICS 101
operating procedures. In January 2005, GAO reported that in a five-month period—February 3,
2004 through June 30, 2004—NICS checks resulted in an estimated 650 terrorist-related record
hits in VGTOF. Of these, 44 were found to be valid. As noted above, however, being identified as
a known or suspected terrorist is not grounds to prohibit a person from being transferred a firearm
under current law. As a consequence, 35 of these transactions were allowed to proceed, 6 were 102
denied, one was unresolved, and 2 were of an unknown status. GAO recommended that the
Attorney General should (1) clarify what information generated by the Brady background check
process could be shared with counterterrorism officials and (2) either more frequently monitor
background checks conducted by full and partial POC States that result in terrorism-related 103
VGTOF hits, or allow the FBI to handle such cases.
Several related pieces of legislation were introduced that are related to NICS operations and
terrorist watch lists. The Terrorist Apprehension and Record Retention Act of 2005 (S. 578/H.R.
1225), introduced by Senator Lautenberg and Representative John Conyers, would have required
that the FBI, along with appropriate federal and state counterterrorism officials, be notified
immediately when the NICS indicated that a person seeking to obtain a firearm was a known or
suspected terrorist. Furthermore, the proposal would have (1) required that the FBI coordinate the
response to such occurrences, (2) authorized the retention of all related records for at least 10
years, and (3) allowed federal and state officials access to such records.
In addition, Representative Peter King introduced H.R. 1168, a bill that would have required the
Attorney General to promulgate regulations to preserve records of terrorist - and gang-related
record hits during such background checks until they were provided to the FBI. Representative
Carolyn McCarthy introduced H.R. 1195, a bill that would have made it unlawful for anyone to
transfer a firearm to a person who was on the “No Fly” lists maintained by the Transportation th
Security Administration. In the 110 Congress, Representative McCarthy has reintroduced this
measure (H.R. 1167). Also, Senator Lautenberg has introduced a bill (S. 1237) that would
authorize the Attorney General to deny the transfer of firearms or the issuance of firearms and
explosives licenses to known or suspect terrorists. The language of S. 1237 reportedly reflects a 104
legislative proposal made by the Department of Justice. Representative King has introduced an
identical measure (H.R. 2074). More recently, Senator Lautenberg has introduced a separate
measure (S. 2935) that would authorize the Attorney General to retain firearm transfer records on
persons who are suspected terrorists or their supporters, but who have been transferred a firearm.
In the 109th Congress, legislation was introduced to regulate more strictly certain .50 caliber
rifles. Some of these rifles are chambered to fire a relatively large round originally designed for
the Browning Machine Gun (BMG) and have been adopted by the U.S. military as long-range
101 For further information, see GAO, Gun Control and Terrorism: FBI Could Better Manage Firearm-Related
Background Checks Involving Terrorist Watch List Records, GAO-05-127, January 2005, 38 pp.
102 Ibid., p. 9.
103 Ibid., p. 26.
104 Michael Luo, “U.S. Proposal Could Block Gun Buyers Tied to Terror,” New York Times, April 27, 2007.
105 For further information, see CRS Report RS22151, Long-Range Fifty Caliber Rifles: Should They Be More Strictly
Regulated?, by William J. Krouse.
“sniper” rifles. Gun control advocates argue that these firearms have little sporting, hunting, or
recreational purpose. They maintain that these rifles could be used to shoot down aircraft, rupture
pressurized chemical tanks, or penetrate armored personnel carriers. Gun control opponents
counter that these rifles are expensive, cumbersome, and rarely, if ever, used in crime.
Furthermore, they maintain that these rifles were first developed for long-range marksmanship
competitions and then adopted by the military as sniper rifles.
The Fifty Caliber Sniper Weapons Regulation Act of 2005 (S. 935), introduced by Senator Dianne 106
Feinstein, would have amended the National Firearms Act (NFA) to regulate “.50 caliber sniper
weapons” in the same fashion as short-barreled shotguns and silencers, by levying taxes on the
manufacture and transfer of such firearms and by requiring owner and firearm registration. In the th
The other proposal introduced by Representative James Moran, the 50 Caliber Sniper Rifle
Reduction Act (H.R. 654), would have also amended the NFA to include those weapons but 107
would have also amended the Gun Control Act to effectively freeze the population of those
weapons legally available to private persons and to prohibit any further transfer of those firearms.
In other words, H.R. 654 would have grandfathered in existing rifles but would have banned their
further transfer. Consequently, the proposal would have eventually eliminated those rifles all
together from the civilian gun stock. It would have been likely that covered .50 caliber rifles
would have had to be destroyed or handed over to the ATF as contraband when the legal firearm
owner died or wanted to give up the firearm. H.R. 654 included no compensation provision for
rifles destroyed or handed over to the federal government.
Furthermore, both proposals (S. 935 and H.R. 654) would have defined “.50 caliber sniper
weapon” to mean “a rifle capable of firing center-fire cartridge in .50 caliber, .50 BMG caliber,
any other variant of .50 caliber or any metric equivalent of such calibers.” Many rifles, and even
some handguns, are chambered to fire .50 caliber ammunition, meaning the projectile is about
one-half inch in diameter. Opponents of this legislation note that this definition was very broad
and would have likely covered .50 caliber rifles that would not be considered “long-range” or
“sniper” rifles. The .50 BMG caliber round, on the other hand, is an exceptionally large cartridge
(projectile and casing), which was once used almost exclusively as a heavy machine gun round.
Representative Moran also offered an amendment to the FY2006 Department of Commerce
appropriations bill (H.R. 2862) that would have prohibited the use of funding provided under that
bill to process licenses to export .50 caliber rifles, but that amendment was not adopted by the
In 1994, Congress banned for 10 years the possession, transfer, or further domestic manufacture
of semiautomatic assault weapons (SAWs) and large capacity ammunition feeding devices
(LCAFDs) that hold more than 10 rounds that were not legally owned or available prior to the
date of enactment (September 13, 1994). The SAW-LCAFD ban expired on September 13, 2004.
Assault rifles were originally developed to provide a lighter infantry weapon that could fire more
rounds, more rapidly (increased capacity and rate of fire). To increase capacity of fire, detachable,
106 26 USC, Chapter 53, §5801 et seq.
107 18 USC, Chapter 44, §921 et seq.
self-feeding magazines were developed. These rifles were usually designed to be fired in fully
automatic mode, meaning that once the trigger is pulled, the weapon continues to fire rapidly
until all the rounds in the magazine are expended, or the trigger is released. Often these rifles
were also designed with a “select fire” feature that allowed them to be fired in short bursts (e.g.,
three rounds per pull of the trigger), or in semiautomatic mode (i.e., one round per pull of the
trigger), as well as in fully automatic mode. Semiautomatic firearms by comparison, including
semiautomatic assault weapons, fire one round per pull of the trigger.
Under current law, any firearm, including “assault weapons,” that can be fired in fully automatic
mode or in multi-round bursts is classified as a “machine gun” and must be registered with the
federal government under the National Firearms Act of 1934. Furthermore, it is illegal to
assemble a machine gun with legally or illegally obtained parts. The population of legally owned
machine guns has been frozen since 1986, and they were not covered by the semiautomatic
assault weapons ban. According to a 1997 survey of 203,300 state and federal prisoners who had
been armed during the commission of the crimes for which they were incarcerated, fewer than 1
in 50, or less than 2%, used, carried, or possessed a fully automatic or semiautomatic assault 108
The statute classified a rifle as a semiautomatic assault weapon if it was able to accept a
detachable magazine and included two or more of the following five characteristics: (1) a folding
or telescoping stock, (2) a pistol grip, (3) a bayonet mount, (4) a muzzle flash suppressor or 109
threaded barrel capable of accepting such a suppressor, or (5) a grenade launcher. There were
similar definitions for pistols and shotguns that were classified as semiautomatic assault 110
weapons. Semiautomatic assault weapons that were legally owned prior to the ban were not
restricted and remained available for transfer under applicable federal and state laws.
Opponents of the ban argue that the statutorily defined characteristics of a semiautomatic assault
weapon were largely cosmetic, and that these weapons were potentially no more lethal than other
semiautomatic firearms that were designed to accept a detachable magazine and were equal or
superior in terms of ballistics and other performance characteristics. Proponents of the ban argue
that semiautomatic military-style firearms, particularly those capable of accepting large capacity
ammunition feeding devices, had and have no place in the civilian gun stock.
In the 108th Congress, proposals were introduced to extend or make permanent the ban, whereas
other proposals were made to modify the definition of “semiautomatic assault weapon” to cover a
greater number of firearms by reducing the number of features that would constitute such
firearms, and expand the list of certain makes and models of firearms that are statutorily
enumerated as banned. A proposal (S. 1034) introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein would have
made the ban permanent, as would have a proposal (H.R. 2038/S. 1431) introduced by
Representative Carolyn McCarthy and Senator Frank Lautenberg. The latter measure, however,
would have modified the definition and expanded the list of banned weapons. Senator Feinstein
also introduced measures that would have extended the ban for 10 years (S. 2109/S. 2498). In
addition, on March 2, 2004, the Senate passed an amendment to the gun industry liability bill (S.
108 For further information, see Firearm Use by Offenders, by Caroline Wolf Harlow, at
109 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30)(B).
110 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30)(C) and (D).
109 Congress, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would have reinstated previous
law for 10 years (S. 620). Representative McCarthy and Senator Lautenberg reintroduced their
bills to make the ban permanent (H.R. 1312/S. 645).
In the 110th Congress, Representative McCarthy has reintroduced a similar proposal (H.R. 1022)
and another measure (H.R. 1859) that would prohibit the transfer of a semiautomatic assault
weapon with a large capacity ammunition feeding device, among other things. Representative
Mark Steven Kirk has introduced the Assault Weapons Ban Reauthorization Act of 2008 (H.R.
6257). Senator Biden has included provisions to reauthorize the ban in the Crime Control and
Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 2237).
Federal law does not regulate gun shows specifically. Federal law regulating firearm transfers,
however, is applicable to such transfers at gun shows. Federal firearms licensees—those licensed
by the federal government to manufacture, import, or deal in firearms—are required to conduct
background checks on non licensed persons seeking to obtain firearms from them, by purchase or
exchange. Conversely, non licensed persons—those persons who transfer firearms, but who do
not meet the statutory test of being “engaged in the business”—are not required to conduct such
To some, this may appear to be an incongruity in the law. Why, they ask, should licensees be
required to conduct background checks at gun shows, and not non licensees? To others, opposed
to further federal regulation of firearms, it may appear to be a continuance of the status quo (i.e.,
non-interference by the federal government into private firearm transfers within state lines). On
the other hand, those seeking to increase federal regulation of firearms may view the absence of
background checks for firearm transfers between non licensed/private persons as a “loophole” in
the law that needs to be closed. A possible issue for Congress is whether federal regulation of
firearms should be expanded to include private firearm transfers at gun shows and other similar
Among gun show-related proposals, there are two basic models. The first model is based on a bill th
(S. 443) that was introduced in the 106 Congress by Senator Lautenberg, who successfully
offered this proposal as an amendment to the Senate-passed Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender th
Act (S. 254). Several members introduced variations of the Lautenberg bill in the 107 Congress. th
In the 108 Congress, Representative Conyers—ranking minority member of the Judiciary
Committee—introduced H.R. 260, which was very similar to the Lautenberg bill. In addition,
former Senator Daschle introduced the Justice Enhancement and Domestic Security Act of 2003
(S. 22), which included gun show language that was similar to the Lautenberg bill.
The second model is based on a bill (S. 890) introduced in the 107th Congress by Senators th
McCain and Lieberman. In the 108 Congress, Senators McCain and Reed introduced a bill (S. th
1807), which was similar to S. 890. In the 108 Congress, on March 2, 2004, the Senate passed
an amendment offered by Senator McCain to the gun industry liability bill (S. 1805) that would
have required background checks for private firearm transfers at gun shows, but the Senate did
111 For further information, see CRS Report RL32077, The Assault Weapons Ban: Legal Challenges and Legislative
Issues, by T. J. Halstead, and CRS Report RL32585, Semiautomatic Assault Weapons Ban, by William J. Krouse.
not pass this bill.112 In the 109th and 110th Congresses, Representative Michael Castle reintroduced
this bill as the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2005 (H.R. 3540 and H.R. 96). Senator
Lautenberg has reintroduced his gun show proposal as the Gun Show Background Check Act
2008 (S. 2577). Previously, Senator Biden had included similar provisions in the Crime Control
and Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 2237).
112 For further information, see CRS Report RL32249, Gun Control: Proposals to Regulate Gun Shows, by William J.
Krouse and T.J. Halstead.
The following principal changes have been enacted to the Gun Control Act since 1968.
• The Firearms Owners Protection Act, McClure-Volkmer Amendments (P.L. 99-
308, 1986), eases certain interstate transfer and shipment requirements for long
guns, defines the term “engaged in the business,” eliminates some record-keeping
requirements, and bans the private possession of machine guns not legally owned
prior to 1986.
• The Armor Piercing Ammunition Ban (P.L. 99-408, 1986, amended in P.L. 103-
322, 1994) prohibits the manufacture, importation and delivery of handgun
ammunition composed of certain metal substances and certain full-jacketed
• The Federal Energy Management Improvement Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-615)
requires that all toys or firearm look-a-likes have a blazed orange plug in the
barrel, denoting that it is a non-lethal imitation.
• The Undetectable Firearms Act (P.L. 100-649, 1988, amended by P.L. 108-174,
possession, and transfer of firearms not detectable by security devices.
• The Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-647), as originally enacted,
was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court (United States v. Lopez,
514 U.S. 549 , April 26, 1995). The Act prohibited possession of a firearm
in a school zone (on the campus of a public or private school or within 1,000 feet
of the grounds). In response to the Court’s finding that the Act exceeded th
Congress’s authority to regulate commerce, the 104 Congress included a
provision in P.L. 104-208 that amended the Act to require federal prosecutors to
include evidence that the firearms “moved in” or affected interstate commerce.
• The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, 1993 (P.L. 103-159), requires that
background checks be completed on all non licensed person seeking to obtain
firearms from federal firearms licensees.
• The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-322)
prohibited the manufacture or importation of semiautomatic assault weapons and
large capacity ammunition feeding devices for 10 years. The Act also bans the
sale or transfer of handguns and handgun ammunition to, or possession of
handguns and handgun ammunition, by juveniles (younger than 18 years old)
without prior written consent from the juvenile’s parent or legal guardian;
exceptions related to employment, ranching, farming, target practice, and hunting
are provided. In addition, the Act disqualifies persons under court orders related
to domestic abuse from receiving a firearm from any person or possessing a
firearm. It also increased penalties for the criminal use of firearms. The assault
weapons ban expired on September 13, 2004.
• Federal Domestic Violence Gun Ban (the Lautenberg Amendment, in the
Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY1997, P.L. 104-208) prohibits
persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence from possessing
firearms and ammunition. The ban applies regardless of when the offense was
adjudicated: prior to, or following enactment. It has been challenged in the 113
federal courts, but these challenges have been defeated.
• The Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Appropriations Act, 1999 (P.L. 105-
277), requires all federal firearms licensees to offer for sale gun storage and
safety devices. It also bans firearm transfers to, or possession by, most non
immigrants, and those non immigrants who have overstayed the terms of their
• The Treasury, Postal and General Government Appropriations Act (P.L. 106-58)
requires that background checks be conducted when former firearm owners seek
to redeem a firearm that they sold to a pawnshop.
• The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296) establishes a Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives by transferring the law enforcement
functions, but not the revenue functions, of the former Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of
• Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-277) provides that
qualified active and retired law enforcement officers may carry a concealed
firearm. This Act supersedes state level prohibitions on concealed carry that
would otherwise apply to law enforcement officers, but it does not override any
federal laws. Nor does the Act supersede or limit state laws that permit private
persons or entities to prohibit or restrict the possession of concealed firearms on
their property or prohibit or restrict the possession of firearms on any state or
local government property, installation, building, base, or park.
William J. Krouse
Specialist in Domestic Security and Crime Policy
113 See CRS Report RL31143, Firearms Prohibitions and Domestic Violence Convictions: The Lautenberg
Amendment, by T. J. Halstead.