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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gun Control Legislation

William J. Krouse
Specialist in Domestic Security and Crime Policy

Congress has debated the efficacy and constitutionality of federal regulation of firearms and ammunition, with strong advocates arguing for and against greater gun control. Since March 2011, much of the gun control debate in the 112th Congress has swirled around allegations that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) mishandled a Phoenix, AZ-based gun trafficking investigation known as “Operation Fast and Furious.” Senator Charles Grassley, ranking minority Member on the Committee on the Judiciary, and Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have issued two joint staff reports on Operation Fast and Furious, and the House committee has held three related hearings. On November 1, 2011, a high-ranking DOJ official testified before the Senate Judiciary’s Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee that he had identified “gun walking” as a potentially risk laden investigative technique in April 2010 in connection with another ATF investigation, Operation Wide Receiver, but failed to inform the Attorney General about the potential risks.

Also, on November 1, 2011, the Senate passed an FY2012 Minibus Appropriations bill (H.R. 2112) that includes an amendment offered by Senator John Cornyn that would prevent the expenditure of any funding under that bill for gun trafficking investigations that allowed firearms to be transferred to drug cartels without those firearms being monitored or controlled. The House Committee on Appropriations has reported a parallel funding measure that includes other firearms-related riders on DOJ and ATF funding (H.R. 2596). For example, one House rider would prohibit ATF from collecting multiple rifle sales reports from federally licensed gun dealers in Southwest border states.

In addition, on October 25, 2011, the House Committee on the Judiciary ordered reported a bill (H.R. 822) that would establish a greater degree of reciprocity between states that issue concealed carry permits for handguns to civilians. 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 judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority based upon a finding that the beneficiary posed a danger to himself or others. In May 2011, firearms-related amendments to bills reauthorizing USA PATRIOT Act provisions were considered (H.R. 1800, S. 1038, and S. 990), but they were not included in the enacted legislation (P.L. 112-14).

The tragic shootings in Tucson, AZ, on January 8, 2011, in which 6 people were killed and 13 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, have generated attention in the 112th Congress. Several Members introduced proposals that arguably address issues related to the shooter’s mental illness and drug use (see S. 436) and his use of large capacity ammunition feeding devices (LCAFDs) (see H.R. 308 and S. 32), as well as a proposal to ban firearms within the proximity of certain high-level federal officials (see H.R. 367 and H.R. 496).

This report concludes with discussion of other salient and recurring gun control issues that have generated past congressional interest. Those issues include (1) screening firearms background check applicants against terrorist watch lists, (2) reforming the regulation of federally licensed gun dealers, (3) requiring background checks for private firearms transfers at gun shows, (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. 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 111th Congress.

Date of Report: November 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 75
Order Number: RL32842
Price: $29.95

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