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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gun Control Legislation

William J. Krouse
Specialist in Domestic Security and Crime Policy

Congress has continued to debate the efficacy and constitutionality of federal regulation of firearms and ammunition, with strong advocates arguing for and against greater gun control. Speaking to these questions either in whole or part, on June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court issued its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, finding that the District of Columbia (DC) handgun ban violated an individual’s right under the Second Amendment to lawfully possess a firearm in his home for self-defense. On June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court issued a related decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago, finding that the individual right also applied to the states.

This report provides basic firearms-related statistics, an overview of federal firearms law, and a summary of legislative action in the 111
th Congress and selected legislative action in the 110th Congress that involved issues revisited in the 111th Congress. The report concludes with a discussion of other salient issues that have generated significant congressional interest in the past. Of the issues considered by the 111th Congress, perhaps the most significant involved amendments to District of Columbia (DC) voting rights bills that would have further overturned DC gun laws. While the Senate passed such amendments (S. 160), the House leadership tabled a DC voting rights bill (H.R. 157) rather than give pro-gun Members an opportunity to pass similar amendments. Pro-gun Members, however, passed several other gun-related provisions that were included in enacted legislation. These provisions address 
  • carrying firearms on public lands (P.L. 111-24), 
  • transporting firearms in passenger luggage on Amtrak (P.L. 111-117), 
  • widening law enforcement off-duty concealed carry privileges (P.L. 111-272), and 
  • prohibiting data collection on gun ownership or higher premiums for gun owners who are beneficiaries of healthcare wellness programs (P.L. 111-148). 
The 111th Congress reconsidered or newly considered several other provisions that were not enacted. These issues could re-emerge in the 112th Congress. They include 
  • veterans adjudicated as mentally incompetent and loss of gun rights (S. 669 and H.R. 6132), 
  • firearms possession in public housing (H.R. 3045 and H.R. 4868), 
  • interstate reciprocity of concealed carry privileges (S. 1390 and S. 845), and 
  • the treatment of firearms under bankruptcy proceedings (H.R. 5827/S. 3654). 
In addition, the 111th Congress provided the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) with additional funding to combat Southwest border gun trafficking, and continued to make permanent a funding limitation on the release of ATF firearms trace data, albeit with alterations. Other salient and recurring gun control issues that have generated past congressional interest include (1) screening firearms background check applicants against terrorist watch lists (S. 1317/H.R. 2159 and S. 2820); (2) reforming the regulation of federally licensed gun dealers (S. 941/H.R. 2296); (3) requiring background checks for private firearms transfers at gun shows (S. 843 and H.R. 2324); (4) more-strictly regulating certain firearms previously defined in statute as “semiautomatic assault weapons”; and (5) banning or requiring the registration of certain long-range .50 caliber rifles, which are commonly referred to as “sniper” rifles. .

Date of Report: December 21, 2010
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: RL32842
Price: $29.95

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