CRS — Gun Control Legislation

December 17, 2012

Gun Control Legislation (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress has debated the efficacy and constitutionality of federal regulation of firearms and ammunition, with strong advocates arguing for and against greater gun control. In the wake of the July 20, 2012, Aurora, CO, theater mass shooting, in which 12 people were shot to death and 58 wounded (7 of them critically) by a lone gunman, it is likely that there will be calls in the 112th Congress to reconsider a 1994 ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices that expired in September 2004. There were similar calls to ban such feeding devices (see S. 436/H.R. 1781) following the January 8, 2011, Tucson, AZ, mass shooting, in which 6 people were killed and 14 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was grievously wounded. These calls could be amplified by the August 5, 2012, Sikh temple shooting in Milwaukee, WI, in which six worshipers were shot to death and three wounded by a lone gunman.

The 112th Congress continues to consider the implications of Operation Fast and Furious and allegations that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) mishandled that Phoenix, AZ-based gun trafficking investigation. On June 28, 2012, the House passed a resolution (H.Res. 711) citing Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt for his failure to produce additional, subpoenaed documents related to Operation Fast and Furious to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. On May 18, 2012, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013 (H.R. 4310), which would amend a limitation on the Secretary of Defense’s authority to regulate firearms privately held by members of the Armed Forces off-base. On May 10, 2012, the House passed a Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill (H.R. 5326) that would fund ATF for FY2013, and on April 19, 2012, the Senate Committee on Appropriations reported a similar bill (S. 2323).

On April 17, 2012, the House passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 (H.R. 4089), a bill that would require agencies that manage federal public lands to facilitate access to and use of those lands for the purposes of recreational fishing, hunting, and shooting with certain exceptions set out in statute. Language to a similar effect was included in the FY2013 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (H.R. 6091), which the House Committee on Appropriations reported on July 10, 2012. On November 16, 2011, the House passed a bill (H.R. 822) that would establish a greater degree of reciprocity between states that issue concealed carry handgun permits. On October 11, 2011, the House passed a Veterans’ Benefits Act (H.R. 2349) that would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs from determining a beneficiary to be mentally incompetent for the purposes of gun control, unless such a determination were made by a judicial authority based upon a finding that the beneficiary posed a danger to himself or others.

This report also includes discussion of other salient and recurring gun control issues that have generated past or current congressional interest. Those issues include (1) screening firearms background check applicants against terrorist watch lists, (2) combating gun trafficking and straw purchases, (3) reforming the regulation of federally licensed gun dealers, (4) requiring background checks for private firearms transfers at gun shows, (5) more-strictly regulating certain firearms previously defined in statute as “semiautomatic assault weapons,” and (6) banning or requiring the registration of certain long-range .50 caliber rifles, which are commonly referred to as “sniper” rifles. To set these and other emerging issues in context, this report provides basic firearms-related statistics, an overview of federal firearms law, and a summary of legislative action in the 111 th and 112 th Congresses.

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