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.”
In the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L.
112-55), Congress included a provision that reflects a Senate-adopted
amendment that forbids the expenditure of any funding provided under it to
be used by a federal law enforcement officer to transfer an operable
firearm to a person known or suspected to be connected with a drug cartel without
that firearm being continuously monitored or controlled. The act, however, does
not include language adopted during House full committee markup to
prohibit ATF from collecting multiple long gun sales reports in Southwest
border states. Meanwhile, Congress continues to consider the implications
of Operation Fast and Furious and several gun control issues.
On April 26, 2012, the House Committee on Appropriations ordered reported a
measure that would fund ATF for FY2013. On April 19, 2012, the Senate
Committee on Appropriations also reported a bill (S. 2323) that would fund
ATF for FY2013. Both bills would fund ATF at the same level as requested
by the Administration ($1.153 billion), and both bills include several gun control-related
provisions. On April 17, 2012, the House passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012
(H.R. 4089), a bill that would prohibit any federal agency from banning
recreational shooting on federally managed public lands. On November 16,
2011, the House passed a bill (H.R. 822) that would establish a greater
degree of reciprocity between states that issue concealed carry permits
for handguns to civilians than currently exists under state law. 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 the USA
PATRIOT Act were considered (H.R. 1800, S. 1038, and S. 990), but they
were not passed.
The tragic shootings in Tucson, AZ, on January 8, 2011, in which 6 people were
killed and 13 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, have
also generated attention. Several Members introduced proposals that
arguably address issues related to the shooter’s mental illness and drug
use (see S. 436/H.R. 1781) 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 and 112th Congresses.
Date of Report: May 2, 2012
Number of Pages: 87
Order Number: RL32842
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