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Thursday, May 10, 2012

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.” 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
Price: $29.95

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