By Johanna Reeves, Esq.
The Impact of Mass Violence on Gun Control in the United States
The following article is taken from a Reeves & Dola (www.reevesdola.com) alert published on March 20, 2018, authors Johanna Reeves and Katherine Heubert.
In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a-changin’.” Again. The tragic Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida could very well be a tipping point in the push towards stricter gun control in the United States. History shows that gun control legislation is born out of acts of violence. And now, on the heels of another mass shooting, we are living in a defining moment in time for gun control as evidenced by the plethora of political and academic commentary, protests and a very active Congress.
A quick look at pending legislation in the Congress reveals that since January 2017, anywhere from 99 to more than 190 bills have been introduced (the number depends on whether the search term is “gun,” “firearm” or “weapon”). There has been a flurry of activity since the Stoneman Douglas shooting, and we will examine some of these bills. Before we look at the present, however, we want to look back at the history of our country’s major gun control laws. Understanding the history will surely lend valuable insight into the current legislative activity.
The first federal gun control legislation was the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA), which imposed a tax on the making and transfer of firearms defined by the Act, such as machineguns and short barrel rifles and shotguns. The legislation arose out of the gangland violence of the 20’s during Prohibition. “While the NFA was enacted by Congress as an exercise of its authority to tax, the NFA had an underlying purpose unrelated to revenue collection. As the legislative history of the law discloses, its underlying purpose was to curtail, if not prohibit, transactions in NFA firearms. Congress found these firearms to pose a significant crime problem because of their frequent use in crime, particularly the gangland crimes of that era such as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” ATF National Firearms Act Handbook, ATF EPublication 5320.8, p. 1 (April 2009).
The 60’s were a turbulent time in America. Iconic leaders President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy all were assassinated with firearms. In 1966, Charles Whitman killed 14 people and injured 31 others while shooting from the main building of the University of Texas at Austin. This shooting stood as the deadliest shooting on a U.S. college campus until the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968 to regulate interstate commerce in firearms by prohibiting interstate transfers except through licensed firearm manufacturers, dealers or importers. The statute also established a list of persons prohibited from possessing or receiving firearms.
In the wake of the murder of John Lennon and an assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. This established a national background check system, known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) must run all prospective non-licensed buyers through NICS to determine whether the buyer is eligible to receive a firearm.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) of 1994 (expired in 2004), was the result of a series of mass shootings that happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including the Stockton schoolyard shooting in Stockton, California in 1989, the Luby’s shooting in Killeen, Texas in 1991 and the 101 California Street shooting in San Francisco, California in 1993. The Stockton shooting involved a semi-automatic rifle, and San Francisco involved a semi-automatic pistol.
Once again we find ourselves at another pivotal time of mass violence. Over the past five years alone, since the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, there have been at least six mass shootings in our country that have taken the lives of more than 10 people (not to discount the other shootings that have taken place in which less than 10 people have lost their lives). These mass shootings include the Washington, DC, Navy Yard shooting in 2013, the San Bernardino attack in 2015, the Orlando night club shooting in 2016, the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in 2017, the Texas First Baptist Church shooting in 2017 and finally the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting earlier this year on February 14.
Propelled by a renewed call for change following the Las Vegas shooting and the wave of protests following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Congress has introduced multiple new pieces of legislation that attempt to address the issue of gun violence. Not surprisingly, each piece of legislation, if ultimately enacted, could impact the firearm and ammunition industry in some way. As of the date of this alert, more than 50 such bills have been introduced in the first few months of 2018 alone. Proposals include raising the age to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles to 21, reinstating the semi-automatic assault weapons ban and amending the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to require issuers to disclose in an annual report any substantial financial relationship with any manufacturer or dealer of firearms or ammunition.
A listing of some of the pending legislation (in descending order of introduction), with links to additional information, is provided below.
H.R. 5620: Armed Prohibited Persons Act of 2018—A bill to direct the Attorney General to make grants to States to develop systems to retrieve firearms from armed prohibited persons. Introduced on 4/25/2018 by Rep. Jimmy Panetta [D-CA-20]. Cosponsors 1 (D).
H.R. 5607: Handgun Licensing and Registration Act of 2018—To provide for the mandatory licensing and registration of handguns and for other purposes. Introduced on 4/24/2018 by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman [D-NJ-12]. Cosponsors 7 (D), including Eleanor Norton [D-DC-0], Debbie Wasserman Schultz [D-FL-23] and Frederica Wilson [D-FL-24]. There is a similar Senate bill (S. 2662) that would provide for a grant program for handgun licensing programs, introduced by Chris Van Holland Jr. [D-MD].
H.R. 5560: Defective Firearms Protection Act—To amend the consumer product safety laws to repeal the exclusion of pistols, revolvers and other firearms from the definition of “consumer product” under such laws. Introduced on 4/18/2018 by Debbie Dingell [D-MI-12]. No cosponsors.
H.R. 5410: SAFER Now Act—To improve public safety through sensible reforms to firearms regulations. This bill, 142 pages in length, was introduced on 3/26/2018 by Rep. Joyce Beatty [D-OH-3]. 2 Cosponsors (D). See also related bills H.R. 5087 and H.R. 5077 (below).
S. 2627: Ammunition Background Check Act of 2018—A bill to “appropriately restrict sales of ammunition.” Introduced on 3/22/2018, by Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D-CT]. Cosponsors 2 (D).
S. 2607: Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act of 2018—A bill to provide family members of an individual who they fear is a danger to himself, herself, others or law enforcement, with new tools to prevent gun violence. Introduced on 3/22/2018 by Marco Rubio [R-FL]. Cosponsors 5 including Joe Manchin [D-WV], Jack Reed [D-RI], Bill Nelson [D-FL] and Susan Collins [R-ME].
H.R. 5380: Securing Our Children Act of 2018—To establish a Commission on Securing our Nation’s Children and for other purposes. Introduced on 3/22/2018 by John Katko [R-NY-24]. Cosponsors 2 (1I, 1D).
H.R. 5398: 21 to Buy Act—To amend title 18, United States Code, to increase the age at which a rifle or shotgun may be acquired from a federally licensed firearms dealer and for other purposes. Introduced on 3/22/2018 by Theodore Deutch [D-FL-22]. Cosponsors 7, including Peter King [R-NY-2] and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL-27]
S. 2546: MASS Act—A bill to provide grants to States to encourage the implementation and maintenance of firearms licensing requirements and for other purposes. Introduced on 3/14/2018 by Ed Markey [D-MA] with 1 cosponsor, Elizabeth Warren [D-MA].
H.R. 5286: Mass Violence Prevention Reform Act—To impose a 60-day moratorium on the transfer or receipt of an assault rifle and for other purposes. Introduced on 3/14/2018 by Brian Mast [R-FL-18]. Cosponsors 2, including Peter Kin.
H.R. 5271: Tiahrt Restrictions Repeal Act—To repeal certain impediments to the administration of the firearms laws. Introduced on 3/14/2018 by Barbara Lee [D-CA-13]. Cosponsors 3 (D).
H.R. 5257: Secure Communities and Safe Schools Act—To amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to prohibit the expenditure of certain grant funds to purchase firearms and for other purposes. Introduced on 3/13/2018 by Val Demings [D-FL-10]. Cosponsor Bernie Thompson [D-MS-2].
S. 2502: Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act of 2018—A bill to address gun violence, improve the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, address mental illness in the criminal justice system, end straw purchases and trafficking of illegal firearms and for other purposes. Introduced on 03/06/2018 by Sen. Chuck Grassley [R-IA]. Cosponsors 5, including Ted Cruz [R-TX], Lamar Alexander [R-TN], Marco Rubio [R-FL], Tim Scott [R-SC] and Todd Young [R-IN].
H.R. 5164: Urban Progress Act of 2018—To expand economic opportunities, improve community policing, promote common-sense gun violence prevention in underserved communities and for other purposes. Introduced on 03/05/2018 by Rep. Robin L. Kelly [D-IL-2]. Cosponsors: 14 (D).
H.R. 5163: Keeping Guns from High-Risk Individuals Act—To amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to prohibit the sale or other disposition of a firearm to, and the possession, shipment, transportation or receipt of a firearm by, certain classes of high-risk individuals. Introduced on 03/05/2018 by Rep. Robin L. Kelly [D-IL-2]. Cosponsors: 21 (D).
H.R. 5162: Firearm Safety Act of 2018—To amend the Consumer Product Safety Act to remove the exclusion of pistols, revolvers and other firearms from the definition of “consumer product” in order to permit the issuance of safety standards for such articles by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Introduced on 03/05/2018 by Rep. Robin L. Kelly [D-IL-2]. Cosponsors: 22 (D).
H.R. 5161—To require the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service to submit to Congress an annual report on the effects of gun violence on public health. Introduced on 03/05/2018 by Rep. Robin L. Kelly [D-IL-2]. Cosponsors: 56 (D).
S. 2492: NICS Denial Notification Act of 2018—A bill to provide for the reporting to State and local law enforcement authorities of cases in which the National Instant Criminal Background Check System indicates that a firearm has been sought to be acquired by a prohibited person, so that authorities may pursue criminal charges under State law and to ensure that the Department of Justice reports to Congress on prosecutions secured against prohibited persons who attempt to acquire a firearm. Introduced on 03/05/2018 by Sen. Pat Toomey [R-PA]. Cosponsors 11: 6 (D) 5 (R).
S. 2486: Safe Students Act—Introduced on 03/01/2018 by Sen. Rand Paul [R-KY]. No Cosponsors.
H.R. 5134: STOP Straw Purchases Act—Introduced on 03/01/2018 by Rep. Don Bacon [R-NE-2]. Cosponsors: 1 (D).
S. 2475: BUMP Act—A bill to amend the GCA to prohibit the illegal modification of firearms. Introduced on 02/28/2018 by Sen. Jeff Flake [R-AZ]. Cosponsors 3: 2 (D) 1 (R).
S. 2470: Age 21 Act—A bill to amend the GCA to prohibit the purchase of certain firearms by individuals under 21 years of age. Introduced on 02/28/2018 by Sen. Jeff Flake [R-AZ]. Cosponsors: 2 (D).
H.R. 5106: Investor Choice Against Gun Proliferation Act—To amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to require issuers to disclose in an annual report any substantial financial relationship with any manufacturer or dealer of firearms or ammunition. Introduced on 02/27/2018 by Rep. Gregory W. Meeks [D-NY-5]. Cosponsors: 6 (D).
H.R. 5103: Gun Violence Prevention and Safe Communities Act of 2018—To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to increase the excise tax and special occupational tax in respect of firearms and to increase the transfer tax on any other weapon. Introduced on 02/27/2018 by Rep. Danny K. Davis [DIL- 7]. Cosponsors: 12 (D).
S. 2458: Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act—Introduced on 02/27/2018 by Sen. Susan M. Collins [R-ME]. Cosponsors: 7 (D) 3 (R) 1(I).
H.R. 5090: Raise the Age Act—Introduced on 02/26/2018 by Rep. Anthony G. Brown [D-MD-4]. Cosponsors: 25 (D) 3 (R).
H.R. 5088: No MAGA Act—Introduced on 02/26/2018 by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee [D-TX-18]. Cosponsors: 1 (D).
H.R. 5087: Assault Weapons Ban of 2018—Introduced on 2/26/2018 by Rep. David N. Cicilline [D-RI-1]. Cosponsors: 176 (D).
H.R. 5077: Assault Weapons Ban of 2018—Introduced on 02/20/2018 by Rep. Frederica S. Wilson [D-FL-24]. Cosponsors: 1 (D).
H.R. 4786: Protecting Communities from Lost or Stolen Law Enforcement Weapons Act of 2017—Introduced on 01/12/2018 by Rep. Gregory W. Meeks [D-NY-5]. Cosponsors: 18 (D).
Other notable bills introduced in the Congress in 2017 include:
S. 2135: Fix NICS Act of 2017—Introduced on 11/28/17 by Sen. John Cornyn [R-TX-7]. Cosponsors 77: 43 (D), 32 (R), 2(I). There is an identical bill pending in the House (H.R. 4434). The Fix NICS Act of 2017 was enacted as part of the consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018. It was signed by the President on March 23, 2018.
S. 2095: Assault Weapons Ban of 2017—Introduced on 11/8/17 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]. Cosponsors 29: 28 (D), 1 (I).
It is important to note that all the above bills are at the very beginning stages of the legislative process, and the draft texts will change. History shows the push for new legislation has momentum on its side. Considering the current atmosphere and the public outcry after the Parkland shootings, it is quite possible we will see one or more new laws this year to add yet another layer of gun control in the United States.
The information contained in this article is for general informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as legal advice or as legal opinion. You should not rely or act on any information contained in this article without first seeking the advice of an attorney. Receipt of this article does not establish an attorney-client relationship.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Johanna Reeves is the founding partner of the Washington, DC, law firm Reeves & Dola, LLP (www.reevesdola.com). For 15 years she has dedicated her law practice to advising and representing U.S. companies on compliance matters arising under the federal firearms laws and U.S. export controls. Since 2011, Johanna also has served as Executive Director for the F.A.I.R. (FireArms Import/Export Roundtable) Trade Group (http://fairtradegroup.org). In 2016, Johanna was appointed by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs to serve on the 2016-18 Defense Trade Advisory Group (DTAG). Johanna can be reached at 202-683-4200 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N7 (August 2018)|