The Long, Failed History of Gun Control Legislation
The Long, Failed History of Gun Control Legislation
Terrorism, domestic violence, school shootings, 3D printed guns—none of them have been enough to win the support of Republicans resistant to gun control reforms
It has come to this: Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s heroic president, who is in the midst of a brutal and deadly war, sends his condolences to America. “Deeply saddened by the news of the murder of innocent children in Texas,” Zelensky tweeted after what is already known as the Texas School Massacre.
Tuesday’s murders of 19 children and 2 teachers in a Uvalde, Tex., elementary school by a teenager wielding an assault rifle has reignited the gun control debate—just days after it was supposedly reignited by the racist killings of 10 African American customers at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., also by a teenager wielding an assault rifle.
As of Wednesday morning, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, 17,198 people had been killed by guns in America so far in 2022, more than half by suicide, and there had been 213 mass shootings.
Such tragedies might prompt some countries to change, to pass new gun control laws in an effort to avoid future massacres. But America has a long history of failed attempts at such legislation, despite approaching it from various angles—domestic violence, 3D home printed guns, the rapid fire of semiautomatic weapons, longer background checks, keeping guns away from terrorists.
Opposition from Second Amendment hard-liners and the deep-pocketed National Rifle Association (NRA) has kept gun control legislation from passing since the 1994 assault weapons ban—which “sunsetted” in 2004 and was not renewed. Not one major gun-control bill has passed Congress since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre (states, however, have been more successful in passing laws to both tighten or loosen regulations).
“Being reasonably close to people who are out in the field working on gun violence prevention and people who are survivors of gun violence themselves, I am thinking especially about what it’s like for them to see these incredibly painful traumatic events,” says Jonathan Jay, a Boston University School of Public Health assistant professor of community health sciences, who studies the causes of gun violence in cities and racial disparities in gun violence exposure. “These are retraumatizing—and reminders of the ways in which our public policy has not put community safety above some other roles.”
He emphasizes that gun violence costs thousands of lives per year beyond mass shootings, and that the easy availability of guns has ripple effects, spreading trauma across communities of all demographics.
“Because guns are so widely available, it is pretty easy for people to bring a gun to a situation, for a gun to be involved at a moment when someone is at their worst,” Jay says. “Whether that’s a teenager who has been bullied or a person who is contemplating suicide or an argument in a neighborhood that gets out of hand, those momentary states of mind can become lethal with a gun. Disputes that might not have ended in a fistfight or any physical violence at all can become lethal or life-changing with a gun.
“The case for these measures is much, much wider than these really traumatic mass shooting events,” he says.
After the Uvalde massacre, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate majority leader, said he’s going to bring background checks up for a vote again. But there is little chance it will pass. Meanwhile, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and former President Donald Trump are set to speak at a NRA gun-rights conference in Houston on Friday.
Here are some of the most notable failures of gun control legislation over the last decade (and one or two very small successes):
Post Sandy Hook regulations
After 20 first-graders and 6 others were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, President Barack Obama and Democrats attempted to tighten regulations on assault weapons, limit the capacity of magazines, and tighten background checks. All their bills failed in the Senate in April 2013, on what Obama called “a pretty shameful day.”
Domestic gun violence prevention bills
In 2014, Senate Republicans defeated a bill that would have funded states’ efforts to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and a law that would have banned those under temporary restraining orders from buying or possessing guns.
Home-printed gun scrutiny
That same year, 2014, the Republican-controlled House stopped a proposal that would have required serial numbers on homemade guns, such as those made with 3D printers; the bill never even got out of committee.
Keeping guns away from terrorists
In 2015, the Republican-led Senate defeated a bill that would have banned people on a federal terrorism watch list from buying firearms. Opponents of the “no fly, no buy” bill noted the many errors and inconsistencies on the watch list.
Gun trafficking as a federal crime
In 2015 and 2021, Democrats proposed making gun trafficking a federal crime and increased penalties for those who buy guns for felons and others prohibited from owning them, known as “straw buyers.” None of the proposals passed.
Expanding background checks
In 2015 and 2016, after mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla, Democrats proposed applying background checks to gun shows and private sales, where many gun transactions happen without scrutiny. All failed, as did weaker measures proposed by Republicans. A similar bill on gun shows also failed in 2017, and several subsequent proposals have gone nowhere against NRA opposition.
Record reporting improvements
After a shooter killed 26 at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, with guns he was able to buy in spite of a domestic violence conviction, even the NRA backed a set of minor improvements to the reporting of criminal and mental health records to the background check system. The changes passed Congress as part of a larger spending bill signed into law by President Trump.
“Smart gun” requirements
A bill introduced by Democrats in 2017, after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, would have required gun manufacturers to equip their product with available technologies ensuring that only the proper owner could fire the gun. This would keep children and other family members from firing them as well as render them useless if stolen. It failed.
The Las Vegas shooter used devices known as bump stocks that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire essentially as fast as fully automatic ones. He killed 60 people with semiautomatic rifles equipped with bump stocks. The legislation never passed, but the Trump administration banned the devices through regulation.
Extending background check time limit
Multiple attempts have been made to extend the three-day maximum on federal background checks, after which sales are allowed to proceed. The gunman who killed nine members of a Bible study group at a Black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 was able to purchase his handgun thanks to this loophole. None of the bills have passed.
It’s really sad to see people treat mass killings like political talkings points these days, just as our president and most everyone in the media.
Do these kids not deserve to be mourned? Why are people frothing at the mouth to gain political points and push legislation, rather than honor the lives of the victims? Seems like they’re more or less an afterthought.
I understand the sentiment of wanting to do something, but surely that’s got to come after the grief of the tragedy has been appropriately handled
It is possible to both mourn and take action at the same time. Perhaps the best way to honor the victims of this senseless violence is to take steps so that it doesn’t happen again. I don’t understand the mentality that thinks that because we need to mourn these victims, that somehow means calling for action is inappropriate.
You know what would “honor the lives of the victims”? Literally any action that would prevent mass killings.
Well said—my thoughts exactly. I’m writing as a Newtown mom, whose children were in a 3-hour lockdown sitting along the walls of their classrooms in Newtown’s middle and high schools in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, while they were hearing sirens and helicopters flying overhead, and later learning of the killing of people they knew. As you can imagine, this event tore at the soul of our close-knit community, with the victims’ families and the surviving witnesses forever changed.
As they did with our tragedy, the politicians and media are exploiting the deaths of these poor souls when they push their political agendas before the deceased’s little bodies are even brought to the morgue. This exploitation adds to our collective grief and divides us, rather than uniting us. You can tell it’s purely political when before any investigations into the murderer and the crime even begin, they claim to know exactly what would have prevented it.
They’re so blinded by their gun-control political agenda, that they fail to look for and understand the root problems, and solutions that could actually help prevent another instance. (The deadliest school massacre in US history occurred in Bath, Michigan in 1927 by planted explosives…not a gun.) What causes these (typically) young men to become so evil and sick? Were there warning signs? Do we need more mental health support? What can we do to better secure our schools across the nation?
If Newtown hadn’t, post-shooting, implemented armed guards (retired police officers) in each of its schools (along with many other measures), I wouldn’t have sent my children back to school. One of BU’s selling points for me was the BU Police department.
Ironically, Newtown also houses a crumbling state mental health institution, Fairfield Hills, that was closed down many years ago in the push to end these types of institutions, even though they were evolving to places to house people who were suspected dangers to themselves or others until they could get regulated and then treated as outpatients. I can’t help but wonder if Fairfield Hills were still open in 2012, could it have been a preventative resource for the person who ended up being our school murderer?
So, yes, likely there are things we can/should do at a government level in terms of mental health services and school protection. But, first let us grieve this loss together as a nation, and then look for real solutions, rather than just stoking political division.
Until we put term limits into our political system for all (statehouse as well as Congress) and the judiciary, we will continue to have a group of spineless politicians who carer to big money and have no need to do what is right. The will of the people doesn’t matter because of greed and corruption. And the ironic thing about all of this is the “right to life ” side of the aisle is the same one that turns a blind eye to the lives taken through senseless and preventable violence
Precisely correct! The country should not have stricter gun control.
Faulty ideas on both sides…but stop with more ineffective so-called gun control laws, which only restricts law-abiding citizens from their right to bear arms. Remember, too many of the same politicians still in office that never resolve anything, they only create more chaos & division. They were part of the solution/problems to begin with, so they sure as heck won’t have any new or better solutions. They’re wearing blinders, many corrupt, indoctrinated & ruined politicians are still in power. We need fresh eyes and need to elect people from the “real world” and not keep re-electing the problem enhancers over & over. These politicians don’t speak or act on behalf of their constituents.
Most recent massacres share the one common element of almost all mass casualty shootings: gun-free zones.
According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, between 1950 and 2018, 97.8% of all mass public shootings occurred in gun-free zones.
However well-intended, gun-free zones do not work. While they might provide symbolic or emotional comfort to those who fear firearms, they have no real-world practical effect other than to encourage law-abiding armed citizens to stay away.
Mass casualty shooters have overwhelmingly elected to carry out their attacks in gun-free zones. Relative to all of the other proposed solutions to the problem of mass public shootings, the elimination of gun-free zones would be comparatively simple and inexpensive.
Eliminating the demonstrably ineffective gun-free zones would cause no permanent or substantial damage or loss to owners of such properties. The elimination of gun-free zones may not prove to be the definitive answer, but the evidence indicates that it should be tried. Otherwise we will attempt the same old failed solutions over and over again while expecting a different result. ️To continue doing that is the very definition of insanity.️
These are “gun-free” zones, and most shooting incidents occur in “gun-free” zones — areas targeted by criminals, terrorists, or people with mental issues – where unarmed law-abiding citizens advertise their vulnerability to criminals, the wickedly-influenced or mentally disturbed.
As David Kopel explained in the Wall Street Journal, armed permit holders often serve as the first line of defense against mass murderers:
“The media rarely mentions the mass murders that were thwarted by armed citizens at the Shoney Restaurant in Anniston, AL (1991), the high school in Pearl, MS (1997), the middle school dance in Edinboro, PA (1998), and the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO (2007), among others. At the Clackamas Mall in Oregon, an active shooter murdered two people and then saw that a shopper, who had a handgun carry permit, had drawn a gun and was aiming at him. The murderer’s next shot was to kill himself.”
Creating gun-free zones doesn’t work because they actually attract criminals who view as soft-target zones.
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. A gun is just a tool. It could have been a machete, a knife, an I’ll gotten grenade, or other weapon wielded by a mentally ill individual.
The proper course of action is to provide more mental health opportunities and education to families. It’s ridiculous that some people have to spend thousand of dollars for mental health treatment.
Secondly, stricter gun laws should have been enacted during Obama’s presidency and now during Biden. The Democrats control Congress and the Presidency. Either do something or stop politicizing mass shootings. There’s nothing wrong with background checks and limits to the number of AR-15 a person can and should own. Buying large cache of ammunition should be investigated by the ATF or FBI even if there is no threat.
And I wholeheartedly agree with term limits for all politicians. There are too many career politicians in our government.
To your first point, I think there is a difference between a gun and a knife. A gun can do a lot more damage in a matter of seconds than a knife can. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.
That said, I agree on term limits for all politicians as well. Hopefully that would lead to politicians actually leading and enacting policy change instead of doing all they can to sit in office.
They lied and are changing the narrative –
Opposition from Second Amendment hard-liners and the deep-pocketed National Rifle Association (NRA) has kept gun control legislation from passing since the 1994 assault weapons ban—which “sunsetted” in 2004 and was not renewed.
Not one major gun-control bill has passed Congress since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. Now we have the killings at Buffalo and Texas within days.
Based on the above, the NRA had lied at its recent convention when it said that there was no legislation that could be passed to protect those kids and the teachers who saved their lives to protect their students. They lied when they said a good guy with a gun is better than a bad guy with a gun. In Buffalo, there was a good guy with a gun, and he was killed.
It is time to go 100% grassroots as a university with a voice. All like-minded universities and their newspapers have got to call out the lies. You have to mobilize young folks to vote these guns enthusiast politicians out of office. They are protecting fetuses but not children. Vote them out. Colleges have the best tool: the college newspaper to get young folks to wake up, read and convince their parents and their relatives and others to vote them out.
Present the facts. In this world of alternate facts, only the reasoned and educated must be called to act. The Second Amendment is not absolute. Guns kill. Assault weapons kill. The history of gun control legislation and its impact when it was passed is astounding. Now that its sunsetted mass killings have gone up. There is no reason for anyone not in the local police or military in America to have an assault weapon. It is just an illusion created by fear-mongering producers of guns to believe there is some outside force that our standing military cannot protect us against. It is a marketing tool – mind manipulation. Create a market by creating a set of facts and stating your product as the solution. Then sell a lot of that product.
The biggest challenge will be undo this decade of alternative facts and fake news. There is no such thing as” alternative facts.” Facts are facts, and alternative facts are lies. Fake news is the response used by those who are confronted with anything controversial being put in their path. They lie and say what is true is untrue. Must attack the stop-the-steal movement. There was no election fraud.
It’s a heavy task. But it’s a task that colleges and their students have taken on in America whenever they are called to do so. Take, for example, the Civil Rights movement. The anti-Vietnam movement. Taking on the 2nd amendment and the lies about it and those profiting from it – our young people can’t do it.
It is time to mobilize an army of truth-tellers and writers to wash away the mess. The resistance will be strong. These young folks will be called communists, socialists, and the radical left. Their response is simple “whatever you call me doesn’t matter. All I know is I am standing up for kids”. Then they ask the antagonist “why don’t you stand up for kids?”.
Where does it say in the 2nd Amendment that you can own only one firearm?
Of further Note:
The National Rifle Association was chartered in the State of New York.