It was also predictable. Whether efforts to pass new federal or state laws to raise the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles, expand background checks and similar measures succeed or fail this time around, they will follow a pattern of American policy that goes back more than a century.
As I explain in my book gun control policyefforts to restrict and regulate guns have followed the assassination of political leaders, crime waves and mass shootings since before World War I.
A series of shootings in 1910-1911
In 1910, New York Mayor William J. Gaynor boarded the steamer Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, docked at the wharf in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was embarking on a month-long European vacation.
The trip was cut short when a disgruntled former city employee shot him in the neck with a concealed pistol. Gaynor, seriously injured in the assassination attempt, died in 1913.
The incident intensified already growing calls for a new handgun law in New York State amid growing gun violence, particularly in New York City. In 1911, famed novelist David Graham Phillips was shot in Manhattan by a man who turned his gun on himself. Both are dead.
As the city’s coroner’s office reported a sharp rise in firearm homicides, New York state lawmakers responded by enacting a law requiring permits to buy, possess and transport handguns. . Other states have enacted similar gun licensing laws.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 23, 2022, that the 1911 measure violates the Second Amendment — overturning strict limits on who can carry guns in New York.
Gang violence related to the liquor trade during Prohibition erupted throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. This chaos led to many new laws restricting gun ownership. Most states have banned the fully automatic weapons favored by gangsters. At least eight enacted laws also restrict or ban semi-automatic firearms.
In 1933, shortly before his first presidential inauguration, Franklin D. Roosevelt narrowly escaped an assassin’s bullet. A year later, Congress passed the National Firearms Act of 1934. This first major federal firearms law required those wishing to possess the listed weapons to be registered with the Treasury Department, fingerprinted and subject to background checks, in addition to paying substantial fees to own fully automatic firearms, sawed-off shotguns, silencers and similar weapons.
A month before FDR signed the measure, Texas police shot and killed the infamous gangster duo Bonnie Parker and Clyde Champion Barrow. And the FBI killed John Dillinger, another notorious outlaw, a month later.
Assassinations and upheavals in the 1960s
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 led Congress to consider new measures regarding firearms. Lawmakers held hearings, but those efforts languished until the assassinations of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
Rising crime rates and unrest in cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington have also heightened public concerns about safety. Congress responded by passing the Gun Control Act of 1968, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law.
It restricted arms shipments between states, banned arms sales to minors, criminals and those deemed “mentally incompetent”, and tightened licensing and record keeping, among other measures.
The first modern gun control groups devoted exclusively to advocating for stricter regulation emerged in the 1970s. Chief among them were Handgun Control, Inc. and the National Coalition to Ban Guns fist, later renamed the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Both were formed in 1974.
Aftermath of Reagan’s assassination attempt
The foiled 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan left James Brady, his publicist, disabled. Brady and his wife, Sarah, joined Handgun Control, Inc., an advocacy group later renamed the Brady Campaign. Their organization led the successful effort to enact a new federal law named after Brady requiring background checks before most new gun purchases.
In 1989, a man using an AK-47 assault rifle shot and killed five children and injured 29 others at an elementary school in Stockton, California. That same year, California became the first state to ban semi-automatic assault weapons – military-style weapons designed to fire a bullet with every pull of the trigger.
After a years-long effort, Congress finally enacted a 10-year federal ban on assault weapons in 1994. The law also limited ammunition magazines to those holding no more than 10 rounds – excluding those made previously.
The law expired in 2004, after which mass shootings became more common as assault weapons were increasingly used by mass shooters. Repeated efforts to renew the ban have failed.
The gun control movement insisted on further tightening gun regulations. These efforts culminated in the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, which amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 by establishing a national background check system and a five-day waiting period. for handgun purchases.
The law called for eliminating this waiting period in 1998, replacing it with an instant background check system.
In the aftermath of the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, where two heavily armed students killed 12 of their peers and a teacher, and injured 23 others in Littleton, Colorado, Congress considered several new weapons measures fire.
The Senate narrowly passed a bill in 1999 to establish uniform background checks for all gun purchases, tougher penalties for juvenile offenders and requiring locking devices to be sold with new purchases of handguns.
The more conservative House of Representatives rejected a much weaker gun bill due to opposition from lawmakers who wanted a stronger bill and others who opposed any gun legislation. gun control.
The National Rifle Association, formed in 1871 to improve the marksmanship and marksmanship skills of military-aged men, was at that time the leading organization dedicated to thwarting gun laws. Intense lobbying by the NRA contributed to this defeat.
Bloodbath in Connecticut, Florida and beyond
The 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six staff members were killed, prompted President Barack Obama and many lawmakers to seek tougher gun regulations. fire.
In early 2013, the Senate considered measures to ban assault weapons, limit high-capacity ammunition magazines, require more background checks, and improve record keeping. The senators also considered several provisions aimed at easing restrictions on gun ownership by reducing the waiting period for background checks, easing regulations on the transport of weapons between states and the sale of weapons. handguns, and even a provision to make it a crime to use gun registries to create a registry.
Everything failed in the Senate. Similarly, the House did not pass any new gun laws.
Yet the Sandy Hook shooting has mobilized three new gun groups nationwide: Everytown for Gun Safety, founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Americans for Responsible Solutions, formed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting, and her husband, Mark Kelly, who now sits in the Senate, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
In 2016, the Giffords-Kelly organization joined forces with another gun safety group to become the Giffords organization. The Moms Demand action became part of Everytown in 2014.
In 2018, a disgruntled student walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida armed with an assault weapon. It killed 17 people and injured 17 others.
Parkland students led their own national gun safety effort under the “#NeverAgain” banner. Its “March For Our lives” protests have mobilized thousands of students across the country, as has the organization Students Demand Action, which expanded nationwide in 2018 and is affiliated with Everytown.
That year, 27 states, including Florida, enacted more than 60 new gun regulations.
Yet Congress failed to act, except to pass the modest Fix NICS Act. Passed with bipartisan support in 2018, the law improves data collection and reporting to the national instant criminal background check system for those looking to buy guns. The NRA did not object to the measure.
As this story attests, predicting the likelihood of congressional action now or in the near future is anyone’s guess.