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US Gun Law
Gun Law in the United States of America is the best in the world for gun rights. It has been this way ever since the dawning of the nation. In the aftermath of a hard-fought colonial war against the might of Great Britain the The founding fathers realized, when drawing up the Bill of Rights, to have firearms protected from government control, in case of tyranny in future times.
They drew upon their experience and knowledge of gun confiscations in Scotland, the English Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. In fact the much earlier English Bill of Rights already had a section for arms-bearing, however this was open to interpretation and relied upon a monarch or government for 'permission' to do so first and foremost. The Second Amendment was born with the fabled words:
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Federal Gun Law 1934 to 1968
However there has been some federal legislation over the years that has restricted gun rights slightly. The first of these was the 1936 NFA.
The 1934 National Firearms Act registered machine guns. It also registered Short-Barreled Rifles (SBR) and short-barreled shotguns (known as a SBR) and 'Any other Weapon' also called AoWs. Additionally to actually transfer NFA weapons incurred a tax of $200 each time. Like many eariler gun controls this was primarily a revenue-making law but used the 1914 Narcotic Drug Act as a framework. The fighting between the gangsters of the 20s and 30s as well as the perceived criminality was also blamed for the reaction from Congress.
Four years later the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 made it a requirement for dealers (defined as "any person engaged in the business of selling firearms" and repairers of firearms) to own a one-dollar license. For enforcement of both these acts the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (ATTD) of the Internal Revenue Service was assigned. More about this later.
Thirty years later it was followed by the 1968 Gun Control Act. This quite a major piece of legislation which saw convicted felons included those released from prison forbidden to own firearms. Prior to this gunshops and independent manufacturers of guns had been mostly left alone - Eugene Stoner, who brought us the AR-15, being a notable example. The 1968 GCA tightened the requirements for owning a Federal Firearm Licensee, as well as the importation of firearms. The importation of military surplus weaponry was banned (those that were military had to be of 'sporting' designation to get around the ban). Age restrictions were now put into place also. To buy shotguns, rifles and ammunition you were required to be 18 years old or older. For Pistols and ammunition the age requirements were 21 years or older. This does NOT mean it is necessarily illegal to possess a firearm IF you are younger BUT some state laws can vary.
The Enforcement and Protection Era 1969 to 2008
In 1969 the ATTD became the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Division of the IRS. Three years later the ATF got bureau status thus becoming the BATF, colloquially they are called still called the ATF in conversation though. Previous to 1968 GCA much of the gun enforcement by them was a side-line.By 1969 a zealous, quota-based targeting along with a change of personel to aggressive tactics against FFLs took precedent (although this later cooled-off to an extent). Auditing FFLs, searches (with a search warrant) and informants using the most creative 'entrapment' methods soon gained a foothold in the legal balliwick. The ATF are often spoken of with a mixture of dread, spite and wariness. Nevertheless they are usually helpful if contacted on firearm matters by the uncertain. The NRA constantly lobby's in defense of the down-trodden in some ATF enforcement cases.
The 1986 Firearms Owners' Protection Act came into force. This had been first drafted in 1979 and by a force of will and compromise took effect in '86. It improved some of the transportation grey areas. In the past some gun-owners had been arrested for transporting their firearms through states with their own stricter gun laws than their home state. This occured even if the firearms were unloaded and inaccessbile. Unfortunately the 1986 FOPA Act had a also closed the machine gun registry to newer machine guns, FFL holders, Federal employees and LEOs were the exceptions. Essentially the transfer of newly-made machineguns was out of reach to all ordinary citizens unless they licensed. The end result was machinegun prices skyrocketed on the existing ones still legal to transfer. Another
In 1994 the Democrat government voted through and signed the infamous 'assault weapons ban' into law. This was a strange law that did not ban existing firearms (although state laws in some areas (like California) did already restrict 'assault weapons') but restricted gun-makers from importing or making certain firearms that had 'features'. It was widely considered a failure as aftermarket modification took place in gun-friendly states. Ten years later the sunset clause on the AWB came in 2004 and the Republican president did not choose to re-sign it, ending the feel-good law for good.
In 2008 there was a landmark ruling in the DC Vs Keller case. Keller had argued that his rights were being infringed upon, his residence in Washington DC area has among the toughest gun control in the union. His pistol was required by law to be locked with a trigger-lock and even carrying it around the house without a license was against the law. Following a lengthy court battle the matter was eventually settled in the Supreme court. The ruling, by 5 votes for to 4 against saw the Supreme Court force Washington D.C to change the law to allow him to carry the gun in the home. The impact across the country cannot be understated. More states that had earlier been stricter on gun-rights now eased the restrictions, allowing Concealed Handgun Licenses to be granted and even unlicensed Concealed Carry in some states.
There have been recent attempts to force all 50 states in the union via federal law to control gun sales. Currently most states allow private sales between lawful citizens and residents. Some of the stricter states for gun law go further, they ban gun sales unless at an FFL gunstore. Others take a moderate approach of allowing private sales but not at gunshows.
What firearms can Americans own?
General Firearm Ownership Process
To stay within US Gun law it is wise to check the federal law requirements. Without the
FFL Dealer / Gunshop
Gun Dealer Video Here