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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 tragic
shootings in Tucson, AZ, on January 8, 2011, in which six people were killed and 13 wounded,
including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, could prompt the 112th Congress to examine issues
related to the shooter’s mental illness and drug use (see S. 436) and his use of large capacity
ammunition feeding devices (LCAFDs) (see H.R. 308 and S. 32), as well as a proposal to ban
firearms within the proximity of certain high-level federal officials (see H.R. 367 and H.R. 496).
Other emerging issues include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s (ATF)
proposal to require multiple rifle sales reports from Southwest border state gun dealers and its
conduct of Operation Fast and Furious. More recently, gun-related amendments to bills
reauthorizing USA PATRIOT Act provisions were considered (H.R. 1800, S. 1038, and S. 990),
but were not included in the enacted legislation (P.L. 112-14). To set these and other emerging
issues in context, this report provides basic firearms-related statistics, an overview of federal
firearms law, and a summary of legislative action in the 111th Congress.
During the 111th Congress, the gun control debate was colored by two key Supreme Court
findings. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court found that the District of Columbia (DC)
handgun ban, among other regulations, violated an individual’s right under the Second
Amendment to lawfully possess a firearm in his home for self-defense. In McDonald v. City of
Chicago, the Court found that the Second Amendment also applied to the states. Congress
considered amendments to DC voting rights bills that would have further overturned DC gun laws
(S. 160 and H.R. 157), effectively scuttling the House bill. In addition, some Members passed
several other gun-related provisions included in enacted legislation that address
• carrying firearms on public lands (P.L. 111-24),
• transporting firearms in passenger luggage on Amtrak (P.L. 111-117),
• widening law enforcement off-duty concealed carry privileges (P.L. 111-272),
• prohibiting higher health care premiums for gun owners (P.L. 111-148).
The 111th Congress reconsidered or newly considered several other provisions that were not
enacted. These issues could re-emerge in the 112th Congress. These provisions address
• gun rights restoration for veterans previously deemed to be mentally incompetent
(S. 669 and H.R. 6132),
• firearms possession in public housing (H.R. 3045 and H.R. 4868),
• interstate reciprocity of concealed carry privileges (S. 1390 and S. 845), and
• the treatment of firearms under bankruptcy proceedings (H.R. 5827/S. 3654).
The report concludes with discussion of other salient and recurring gun control issues that have
generated past congressional interest. Those issues include (1) screening firearms background
check applicants against terrorist watch lists; (2) reforming the regulation of federally licensed
gun dealers; (3) requiring background checks for private firearms transfers at gun shows; (4)
more-strictly regulating certain firearms previously defined in statute as “semiautomatic assault
weapons”; and (5) banning or requiring the registration of certain long-range .50 caliber rifles,
which are commonly referred to as “sniper” rifles.