The Gun Control Act of 1968

Instructor: Erin Krcatovich

Erin teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration and has a PhD in Political Science.

In this lesson, we will discuss the Gun Control Act of 1968, including learning about why it was written and what is included within the law. We will also some of the related legislation which applies to this law.

Firearms and the Second Amendment

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right to bear arms, or own and keep firearms at home. Most people interpret that to include hand guns, shot guns, and other similar items. There is, however, some controversy over what role the government should play in regulating gun ownership. Do you think that the federal government should decide what types of guns can be owned by private citizens? Do you think that they should set limits on how many bullets can be purchased in a magazine, or limit where guns can be carried?

As you think about these questions, let's learn about some of the legislation related to gun ownership in the United States. One such law is the Gun Control Act of 1968, which amended the National Firearms Act from decades earlier, and this provides a useful starting point in history for our discussion.

National Firearms Act

In 1934, Congress passed the National Firearms Act (NFA) in reaction to growing gang violence throughout the 1920s. The Act taxed the sale and manufacture of a variety of guns, which were often used in criminal activity. In 1968, a case came before the Supreme Court which made the NFA invalid. In it, the Court decided that it is not lawful for the Act to require everyone to register a firearm, because (as in this case), that can force a person accused of a crime to provide evidence (the gun) which may incriminate himself as the owner of a weapon that was used in a crime (see the case called Haynes v. United States 1968 for more information).

Gun Control Act of 1968

As a result of the Haynes case, the Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) to amend the NFA. It accomplished a few different goals:

  • People did not have to register guns that they already owned.
  • An application for a gun registration permit which was filed before or during the process of a criminal investigation can't be used as evidence for that crime.
  • The definition of a firearm was expanded to include more types of weapons.
  • It banned importing guns that were not to be used for sport (hunting).
  • The Act set a minimum age of 18 to buy a firearm.
  • It required all firearms to be marked with a serial number, for tracking purposes.
  • The Act banned felons, drug users, those who had been committed to a mental institution, anyone dishonorably discharged from the military, non-citizens, anyone with a restraining order against him or her, and anyone with a domestic violence conviction from gun ownership.

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