Gun Control in America: A Look at the Legislation That Got Us Here

Enough is enough. Those were the words of President Barack Obama after yet another mass shooting, this time at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last week. The President said these incidents will not be normalized as part of American culture, but it may be too late for that.

There was at least one mass shooting (defined by at least two people being injured) every day in the U.S. in 2013, according to There have been 351 such shootings thus far in 2015. Despite this disturbing trend, Republican lawmakers have continually refused to address the issue of gun control in a meaningful fashion. The best course for reasonable citizens wanting change is learning the laws that are currently on the books and making others aware of how guns get into the hands of criminals.

Gun Control Act of 1968

Gun control

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Republicans do, in fact, support gun control when it comes to certain individuals. Ronald Reagan, considered a deity in conservative circles, signed the Mulford Act in 1967 as governor of California. The law repealed open carry rights in the state and effectively disarmed the Black Panther Party of Self Defense. The group had been doing armed “cop watch” patrols to stop police brutality in Oakland neighborhoods.

The federal Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 was first discussed after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The gun used to kill President Kennedy was purchased by mail via an NRA advertisement. The law ended up being one of President Lyndon Johnson’s last acts in office when he signed it in October 1968. The GCA created a prohibited persons lists (i.e. felons, dishonorable discharged military) and later added background checks as a requirement via the Brady Act of 1993.

Importation of assault rifles was banned in 1989, but the GCA provided a loophole. Section 922(r) allows disassembled gun to be imported as long as fewer than 10 parts of the whole are included in the kit. Receivers (the main part of a rifle) typically cannot be imported. Americans are allowed to build any guns and own as many guns as they wish for personal use as long as the finish products are not sold for profit.

There’s also the private seller loophole. Only federally licensed distributors are required to run background checks. Private sellers at gun shows and online classified websites are not.

Supreme Court Cases

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in its exact words, says ”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.” The Supreme Court has issued two important decisions in the past decade that clarify exactly what this means.

District of Columbia v. Heller was decided in 2008. The justices, in a 5-4 decision, struck down a 33-year-old ban on gun ownership in Washington, D.C. The majority opinion stated that the Second Amendment applies to enclaves held by the federal government, including Puerto Rico, Guam and Washington, D.C.

The Heller decision did not address whether or not the Second Amendment applied to the states. The 2010 case of McDonald v. Chicago cleared this legal debate once and for all. In another 5-4 decision, the Court struck down a municipal ban on hand guns in Chicago. The majority decision concluded that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment made the Second Amendment applicable at the state level.

There is currently another federal lawsuit pending in New York that is challenging the background check process in the state.

What’s Next?

Yes, firearms were essential in fighting tyranny in the American Revolutionary War, but today, guns are too easy to obtain by anyone and everyone. There are several organizations, including the Prevention Institute and the Brady Campaign, that need your support to continue pushing gun control legislation. Also, contact your Congress members and let them know your stance on the issue.