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Monday, April 15, 2013

Gun Control Proposals in the 113th Congress: Universal Background Checks, Gun Trafficking, and Military Style Firearms

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. The mass shooting in Newtown, CT, along with other mass shootings in Aurora, CO, and Tucson, AZ, has restarted the national gun control debate. Members of the 113th Congress could consider a range of legislative proposals, including several that President Barack Obama has announced his support for as part of his national gun violence reduction plan. The most salient of the President’s legislative proposals would (1) require background checks for intrastate firearms transfers between unlicensed persons at gun shows and nearly any other venue, otherwise known as the “universal background checks” proposal; (2) increase penalties for gun trafficking; and (3) reinstate and strengthen an expired federal ban on detachable ammunition magazines of over 10- round capacity and certain “military style” firearms commonly described as “semiautomatic assault weapons,” which are designed to accept such magazines.

In response to Newtown and the President’s plan, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary considered and approved the following four gun control-related bills:

  • Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 (S. 54), on March 7, 2013, to establish standalone straw purchasing and gun trafficking prohibitions and increase related penalties; 
  • Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013 (S. 374), on March 11, to require background checks for private, intrastate firearms transfers, and encourage states to provide the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with greater access to records on prohibited persons for background check purposes; and to authorize additional appropriations of $100 million annually (FY2014-FY2018) for funding grants to states to improve access to firearms-related prohibiting records—especially for persons adjudicated “mentally defective” and persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence; 
  • School Safety Enhancements Act of 2013 (S. 146), on March 11, to authorize annual appropriations of up to $40 million for the next 10 years for the Secure Our Schools grant program under the Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS); and 
  • Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (S. 150), on March 14, to ban permanently the further production or importation of certain semiautomatic firearms, as well as high-capacity magazines. 

The votes on universal background checks and assault weapons (S. 374 and S. 150) split down party lines (10-8). Senator Charles E. Grassley, the committee’s ranking minority member, voted for the gun trafficking bill (S. 54), making the vote on that measure 11-7. The school safety bill (S. 146) was approved by a vote of 14-4.

On March 21, 2013, Senator Harry Reid introduced the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 (S. 649). This bill includes the language of S. 54, S. 374, and S. 146. However, S. 649 does not include the language of S. 150. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the principal sponsor of S. 150, has indicated that Senator Reid has assured her that he would allow her to offer an “assault weapons” amendment when the Senate considers the gun control proposals noted above. This report examines these proposals and provides an overview of federal firearms law.

Date of Report: April 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: R42987
Price: $29.95

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