Even the most casual of surveys of federal gun legislation will quickly reveal a unique correlation. The first two, The National Firearms Act and the Federal Gun Control Act, passed in 1934 and 1968 respectively, both mirrored national angst against gun violence.
The first, The National Firearms Act passed amidst the explosion of gun violence that began with the infamous 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and that angst did not let up as the likes of John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, and Babyface Nelson blazed a path across the Midwest in daring bank heists and shootouts with the FBI. When questioned, then-NRA president, Karl T. Frederick noted before Congressional committee, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”
Subsequent passage of the National Firearms Act did not eliminate the availability of machine guns, but rather aimed at taxing and registering the trade to keep the guns out of the hands of those with ill intent.
Three decades later, American society was once again roiled in turmoil. Beginning in 1963 with the assignation of President John F. Kennedy, and the further killings of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy two months apart in 1968 led to a further tightening of federal regulations on the sale and ownership of prohibited weapons including machine guns.
A conservative backlash attempted to claw back gun rights in the early to mid-1980s, and that pressure resulted in passage of the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act of 1986. Seeking to loosen the reporting requirements of gun owners and gun dealers, the legislation demarcated the legal process in which a person could buy a machine gun. Specifically, machine guns made and on the market prior to 1986 were readily available for sale and resale in the gun market. Albeit their limited availability has seen the cost soar to legally buy these weapons.
Federal Ban on Bump Stocks
This was more or less the state of gun control laws in play on the night of October 1, 2017, when a new device, bump stocks, entered the national debate. On that night in Las Vegas, a lone gunman took aim at the gathered crowd below his 37th floor Mandalay suite and opened fire on the attendees of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. In ten minutes, with the aid of a bump stock, the shooter unleased over a thousand rounds into the crowd below killing 60 and wounding more than 400 others before dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Mechanical devices that increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon, bump stocks use the gun’s recoil to speed the deliver of cartridges to the chamber faster than a person could typically fire the semi-automatic. The Trump Administration’s Justice Department viewed the device as capable of transforming a heretofore legal semi-automatic weapon into an illegal fully automatic rifle for all intents and purpose. The ban was immediately challenged in court as it wound its way through the appellate process before being struck down by the United States 6th District Court of Appeals court that ruled the justice department had exceeded the scope of its authority in issuing the ban. Currently, bump stocks are not illegal in any state since the ruling came down from the appellate court.