AK 47 assault rifles stand along the wall against a tarp.

Gun control legislation that passed and failed over the last 20 years

March 28, 2023
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Gun control legislation that passed and failed over the last 20 years

Few issues spark more passion in the United States than gun control.

Proponents argue that the country must impose stricter regulations to address the horrifying number of gun-related deaths—over 44,000 in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That number declined slightly from 2021, which marked the highest number of firearms deaths on record.

Opponents of gun control legislation say adding new laws would not only infringe on Second Amendment rights but would also do nothing to deter someone determined to kill; they use the argument that citizens with guns have stopped mass murders in an effort to legitimize calls for broader conceal and carry allowances. The gun lobby has been particularly effective in tying unrestricted gun access to the states' rights platform of the Republican party, and as a result, Democratic lawmakers have had little success in passing legislation over the last two decades.

But that could change. The National Rifle Association filed for bankruptcy in April 2021 as the New York attorney general accused it of illegal conduct. While its influence has remained strong, continued financial difficulties threaten its long-term lobbying power, and groups advocating for gun control—including March for Our Lives, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Moms Demand Action—are challenging its influence.

The past 20 years have been particularly fraught when it comes to the gun debate. An attack at an elementary school in Nashville on March 27 brought the number of mass shootings in 2023 alone to a staggering 130. The issue bears not only on interpersonal violence involving guns but self-harm as well, as suicide accounted for more than half of all gun-related deaths in 2020.

Stacker compiled 23 pieces of gun control legislation that either passed or failed over the last 20 years, using information from government reports and political news sources. They are listed in chronological order based on the month and year each passed or failed. The list is just a snapshot. More than 2,000 firearms-related bills have been introduced since 2001.

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Tiahrt Amendment

- Status of legislation: Passed
- Date passed or failed: 2003

Named for a former Kansas Republican congressman, the amendment has been part of U.S. Department of Justice spending bills since 2003 though some restrictions have been loosened. Passed under pressure from the gun lobby, it prohibits the ATF from releasing data that traces firearms used in crime back to dealers, prohibiting cities, states, researchers, and others from learning from that data. It also requires that records of approved gun purchasers be destroyed within 24 hours and prohibits requiring gun dealers to conduct inventories. Critics say it severely limits research into gun violence.

2 / 23
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Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act

- Status of legislation: Passed
- Date passed or failed: October 2005

This law shields licensed gun manufacturers, dealers, and sellers from civil lawsuits "resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse" of a firearm or ammunition. The law, which includes some exceptions, was a response to lawsuits from municipalities and gunshot victims. Gun rights activists say it protects gun makers from attempts to circumvent Second Amendment rights. President Joe Biden wants the law overturned.

3 / 23
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District of Columbia v. Heller

- Status of legislation: Passed
- Date passed or failed: 2008

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that individuals have a constitutional right to own a firearm and rejected the argument that the Second Amendment applies only to those in a "well regulated militia." The decision overturned a ban on handguns in the District of Columbia, finding that a police officer, Dick Anthony Heller, had a right to keep a loaded handgun at home for protection, although the court noted that the Second Amendment right is not absolute.

4 / 23
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Expanded background checks

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: April 2013

The expanded background checks were a key segment of President Barack Obama's attempt to tighten gun control after the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A compromise proposal from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania failed, as did others, to ban assault weapons and limit ammunition magazines, all of which the National Rifle Association opposed. Nine out of 10 Americans were in favor of background checks.

5 / 23
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Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: June 2014

Named after a 32-year-old mother shot to death by her estranged husband in Connecticut, the proposed law would have prohibited those under a temporary restraining order from buying or possessing a firearm. Lori Jackson had gotten a temporary order but was killed before a hearing on making that order permanent, so her husband possessed his gun legally. Her mother said he fled before court appearances. The legislation also would have protected those abused by dating partners, a provision the NRA opposed.

6 / 23
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Domestic Violence Gun Homicide Prevention Act of 2014

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: July 2014

The legislation proposed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal would have authorized the Department of Justice to issue grants to states to help keep firearms away from people legally prohibited from having them or to remove guns when there is probable cause to believe they would be used for domestic violence. The senator has since reintroduced both this bill and the Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act.

7 / 23
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Homemade Firearms Accountability Act

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: September 2014

The legislation would have required serial numbers for homemade firearms. Democrats argued that the legislation was needed because 3D printer technology allowed many more people to build firearms at home. Supporters such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence noted that homemade guns had been used in mass shootings. The legislation had little chance in the then Republican-controlled House and it failed to move out of committee.

8 / 23
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Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: December 2015

Introduced by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the bill would have prohibited people on a federal terrorism watchlist from buying guns. Critics noted the flaws in the watchlist, including names added in error and the difficulty in getting mistakes corrected. Famously, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts was questioned at airports because one suspect had used the alias "T. Kennedy," the Los Angeles Times noted.

9 / 23
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Criminalizing straw purchasing and gun trafficking

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: December 2015

The bill would have made firearms trafficking a federal crime and increased penalties for "straw purchasers" who buy guns for those prohibited from purchasing them. It followed a report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms that when more than 100,000 guns recovered in Mexico between 2009 and 2014 were submitted for tracing, 70% came from the United States. In March 2021, a bipartisan bill was reintroduced. The NRA argues laws are already in place.

10 / 23
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Enhanced background checks

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: June 2016

Republicans and Democrats introduced competing legislation. Republicans would have improved the existing background check system and defined what it meant to be found "mentally incompetent," a barrier to buying a gun. They wanted the attorney general to look at whether violent video games caused mass shootings. Democrats called for a federal background check on every gun purchase, including those from private online dealers and at gun shows, which are typically excluded. Before voting, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut led a 15-hour filibuster.

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11 / 23
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72-hour waiting period for those on terrorist watch lists

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: June 2016

The shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub renewed debate over regulating gun purchases for those on national terrorist watchlists. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas proposed a 72-hour delay for anyone who had been on a list within the past five years to give officials time to appeal to a judge. Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at the club, had been on watchlists, though not at the time of the shooting. Democrats questioned how evidence could be produced in 72 hours.

12 / 23
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Help End Assault Rifle Tragedies Act

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: July 2016

The legislation would have made it illegal for children under the age of 16 to handle assault weapons. It grew out of a tragedy at a shooting range in Arizona when a 9-year-old girl accidentally killed Charles Vacca, her instructor. She lost control of an Uzi when he let her fire it on her own. His three children began a petition and convinced members of Congress to introduce the bill.

13 / 23
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Preventing Gun Violence Act

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: September 2016

Proposed by former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the bill would have prohibited violent juvenile offenders from possessing a firearm. Israel argued at the time that young people are more easily able to avoid a ban on buying a gun that is imposed on anyone who is convicted of a crime and serves more than one year. They are often given more lenient sentences because of their age, he said. The House was then controlled by Republicans.

14 / 23
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Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2017

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: March 2017

The bill would have required that background checks be conducted for all gun sales and transfers at gun shows, that gun show operators register with the attorney general, and that the ATF be permitted to hire investigators to inspect gun shows and examine the records kept by gun show operators and vendors. Currently, private firearm owners can sell guns at gun shows without conducting background checks or maintaining records of the purchases. The NRA opposes expanded background checks.

15 / 23
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Safer Neighborhoods Gun Buyback Act

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: September 2017

The bill called for providing the U.S. Department of Justice with a two-year $360 million grant to distribute debit cards to state and local governments, as well as to gun dealers, who could then have distributed them to gun owners in exchange for firearms. The debit cards could not have been used to buy firearms or been redeemed for cash. Ten percent of the grant money was to have been designated for recycling the guns.

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16 / 23
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Handgun Safety Trigger Act

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: October 2017

The "smart gun" legislation would have required that within two years of its enactment, all newly manufactured handguns be personalized so that only authorized users could operate them. The technology makes the gun inoperable for anyone else, including criminals and children. Such guns have been available for import into the United States since 2011. The bill was reintroduced after 59 people were killed by a gunman in a Las Vegas hotel firing down on a country music concert. The NRA says it does not oppose smart guns but is against moves to mandate them.

17 / 23
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Background Check Completion Act of 2017

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: October 2017

The bill would have prohibited a licensed gun dealer from concluding a sale if a background check had not been completed. Currently, a gun sale can proceed if the check is not finished after 72 hours. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 was able to buy a .45-caliber handgun when the FBI was unable to track down his arrest on drug charges within three days. The NRA opposes expanded background checks.

18 / 23
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Bipartisan bump stock ban

- Status of legislation: Failed
- Date passed or failed: October 2017

A bill would have banned the sale of bump stocks and other devices that enable semi-automatic weapons to be easily modified to fire faster, the way an automatic weapon would. Automatic weapons have been illegal for more than 30 years. The Las Vegas gunman modified the weapons he used to fire on a country music concert. This legislation stalled, but the Trump administration banned bump stocks in 2019. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2020 and refused to hear a challenge to it in 2022.

19 / 23
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Closing the Charleston loophole

- Status of legislation: Passed House
- Date passed or failed: March 2021

The House passed the "Charleston loophole" that allowed Dylann Roof, the gunman who killed nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, to make a handgun purchase that should have been blocked. The bill would increase the period for background checks from three days to 20, but it is unclear whether it has the votes it needs to advance in the Senate. Young people spurred to act after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, helped to get similar legislation passed by the House in 2019.

20 / 23
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Universal background checks

- Status of legislation: Passed House
- Date passed or failed: March 2021

The bill, which passed the House, would require background checks on all gun sales and transfers. Democrats control Congress and are more hopeful than in the past, but the bill was approved with little Republican support and it lacks the votes it needs to move forward in the Senate. The NRA is opposed to the bill. Similar legislation cleared the House after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

21 / 23
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Bipartisan Safer Communities Act

- Status of legislation: Passed
- Date passed or failed: June 2022

The first gun legislation to be signed into law since 1994, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act finally passed in the wake of the devastation from two more mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. Though remarkable for its bipartisan support, the law is moderate in terms of its measures and regulations. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act bans people convicted of domestic abuse crimes from owning firearms and extends time allocated for background checks for people under 21—a partial closure of the "Charleston loophole." The law also designates federal funds to assist states with crisis intervention programs.

22 / 23
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Protecting Our Kids Act

- Status of legislation: Passed House
- Date passed or failed: June 2022

The Protecting Our Kids Act also passed the House on the heels of the Uvalde and Buffalo mass shootings, though with considerably less Republican support than the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. If signed into law, it would bar people under 21 from buying a semi-automatic rifle, incentivize safe gun storage, and introduce penalties for gun owners whose improper storage of firearms led to a minor using the gun. The Protecting Our Kids Act is not expected to pass in the Senate.

23 / 23
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Assault Weapons Ban of 2022

- Status of legislation: Passed House
- Date passed or failed: July 2022

The Assault Weapons Ban of 2022 passed the House by a four-vote margin, with several Democrats and Republicans crossing party lines both against and in favor of the measure. The bill would make the purchase, sale, and ownership of semi-automatic assault weapons illegal, except for in cases of grandfathered assault weapons. Bill Clinton signed a similar ban into law in 1994, and during its 10-year term, one study found that mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur.

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