2-Minute Law School: Gun Control Laws

Hi. Professor Albert here for this week’s edition of THELAW.TV’s 2-Minute Law School. This week, in the wake of the devastating school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re going to discuss gun laws, or the lack thereof, in the United States.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right of people to keep and bear arms. As it was written in 1791, the amendment states “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.”

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home or hunting.

Despite this right, there were two laws passed in the 1990s that attempted to control the proliferation and use of guns. One law attempted to control who can buy a gun. The other law attempted to control what kinds of guns people could buy. One law is still in effect. The other law expired.

The law known as the Brady Act controls who can buy a gun.

The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act is an Act of the United States Congress, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The act instituted federal background checks on firearm purchasers in the United States. From 1994 through 2009, more than 107 million Brady background checks were conducted. During this period, 1 point 9 million attempted firearm purchases were blocked by the Brady background check system. Prosecution and conviction of violators of the Brady Act, however, is extremely rare. During the first 17 months of the Act, only seven individuals were convicted. In the first year of the Act, 250 cases were referred for prosecution and 217 of them were rejected.

The assault weapons ban controlled what kind of gun people could buy.

Part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was a federal law in the United States that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms, so called “assault weapons”. The 10-year ban was passed by Congress on September 13, 1994, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban expired in 2004, and while there have been multiple attempts to renew the ban, no bill has reached the floor for a vote. After the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Connecticut Senator Dianne Feinstein announced her plan to introduce a bill in the Senate to ban assault weapons.

While state and federal efforts have been made to limit who can and cannot purchase firearms of all kinds, there is nothing preventing someone from taking a legally purchased gun from another person and using it themselves, as was the case with the suspect in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The National Firearms Act requires that all transfers of ownership of registered N.F.A. firearms must be done through the federal N.F.A. registry. While this does nothing to prevent the forceful taking of a firearm of an individual, violations of the Act are punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and forfeiture of all devices or firearms in violation, and the individual’s right to own or possess firearms in the future.

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