How Gun Laws Have Changed Throughout The Years

Gun ownership in the United States has been the subject of heavy debate ever since mass shootings became more frequent. The second amendment provides Americans the right to bear arms, and a third of the population admits owning at least one type of firearm.  

The U.S. constitution has been shaped throughout the years with a history of cases that influenced the country’s gun policy. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) regulates and restricts gun ownership in the country. They are also responsible for prohibiting the illegal use and trafficking of firearms.

However, not all functional guns are covered by the ATF. In fact, the AR-15, or 80 lowers, is not classified as a firearm by the ATF. To know what an AR-15 looks like, you can check out for more details. 

To know how gun laws in the U.S. have changed over time, here is a timeline that will walk you through the major changes:

The Final Ratification Of The Bill Of Rights (1791)  

The Second Amendment was adopted into the Bill Of Rights under Article 1 Section 8, giving the federal militia the right to use firearms for protection.   

The Black Codes (1865) 

Right after the emancipation of the African Americans during the Civil War, the Black Codes were sent to labor. They were required to sign labor contracts and would be arrested and forced to do unpaid work if they refuse. Along with the laws that came with the Black Codes is the prohibition of African Americans from owning firearms.  

The federal government eventually allowed the reformation of the militia consisting of African Americans. In southern states, black militias were formed underground to combat white supremacists. They were finally allowed to use firearms to some extent.  

The Miller Act (1927) 

Concealable firearms such as revolvers, pistols, and other small guns were prohibited by the federal government to be delivered by mail. No employee or officer is allowed to carry them under the risk of being fined or imprisoned. The law is also known as the Mailing of Firearms Act.  

The law came with the exception that under the regulations of the Postal Service, concealable weapons in custom shipments, repairs, and replacement parts can be delivered to the following servicemen in connection to their official duty: 

  • Army 
  • Navy 
  • Air Force 
  • Marine Corps 
  • Organized Marine Corps 
  • Coast Guard 
  • National Guard Officers 
  • Militia (State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District) 
  • Officers of the United States when Serving Warrants of Arrest 
  • Employees and Officers of Law Enforcement Agencies 
  • Watchmen for Guarding Properties of the United States 

National Firearms Act (1934) 

Also known as the NFA, this law is meant to tax the creation and transportation of firearms. An occupational tax was also placed on certain persons involved with the manufacturing and importation of firearms that include rifles and shotguns with barrels measuring under 18 inches lengthwise. They must be registered under the Secretary of Treasury, including other weaponry such as silencers, machine guns, and mufflers.  

Gun Control Act (1968) 

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Gun Control Act (GCA) into law following the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kenedy, and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The GCA replaced the National Firearms Act with a revised section indicating a new description on machine guns and destructive devices such as explosives—grenades, mines, and bombs. The bill also imposed the following: 

  • The law included an age restriction of 21 and above for those who want to buy handguns. 
  • Overall ban on the importation of guns without any sporting purposes. 
  • Felons and the mentally ill cannot purchase firearms. 
  • Firearms, whether manufactured or imported, must have serial numbers. 
  • Imposed stricter regulations, as well as licensing on the firearms industry.  

Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993) 

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or BHVP, was named after White House press secretary James Brady. This law amended the GCA, stating that guns must undergo and pass a complete background check before being purchased from a licensed dealership, importer, or manufacturer. 

It also catapulted the inception of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that the FBI still manages today. Suspects are then briefed on criminal proceedings relating to the violations made. 

The Tiahrt Amendment (2003) 

This law is proposed by Todd Tiahrt that prevented the ATF from releasing information to the public on specific gun purchases made by criminals that only allowed officers of the law access to such data. 

The amendment abolished the ATF requirement for gun dealers to submit an inventory of their wares to law enforcement, required the FBI to destroy evidence on customer records within 24 hours, and prevents the ATF from releasing information for the use of cities, researchers, litigants, and more.  

What Is Currently In-Store For U.S. Gun Control? 

To address the growing problem and instances of mass shootings, the current administration stated that there would be initial actions to answer gun violence as a risk to public health safety. President Jo Biden is even urging Congress to address the nation’s issue of gun violence. The actions include the following: 

  • Proposed law on halting the production of improvised firearms. 
  • Proposed clarity on when a stabilizing brace can be transformed into a short-barrel rifle and its subject to the NFA.  
  • The Justice Department is set to publish a “red flag” model legislation in every state. 

In Conclusion  

Regulations on gun ownership have changed many times depending on social needs and public matters throughout the years. What was deemed constitutional was always taken into account at that time, with more room for revisions along the way. Gun-related violence is still increasing, which is why more laws are passed to help keep the public as safe as possible.  


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Libby Austin

Libby Austin, the creative force behind, is a dynamic and versatile writer known for her engaging and informative articles across various genres. With a flair for captivating storytelling, Libby's work resonates with a diverse audience, blending expertise with a relatable voice.
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