Federal Gun Laws

Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

“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.”

INTERPRETATION – U.S. Supreme Court Case Law:

In the landmark 2008 decision of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court recognized that the Second Amendment extends to the “right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”  Prior to Heller, the lower courts had been divided as to whether the Second Amendment applied to individuals only in the context of militia service

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the Second Amendment’s protection of an individual’s right to keep and bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws as well as federal laws.

UNDERSTANDING – Law Review Article:

For a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the arguments and legal reasoning behind Heller and the history, intent and application of the Second Amendment, you need to read A Critical Guide to the Second Amendment, a detailed law review article by noted University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harland Reynolds.

Key Statutes:

National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. 53):  Originated in 1934 in response to the expanding weaponry deployed by gangsters during Prohibition, the National Firearms Act (NFA) regulates – primarily through taxation and registration – persons and entities engaged in the business of importing, manufacturing, and dealing in certain specific categories of firearms and related items, known as “NFA Firearms” (e.g., machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, suppressors, etc.).  Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968 amended the NFA to cure certain Constitutional flaws and to supplement the list of NFA Firearms to include “destructive devices”. 

Gun Control Act of 1968 (18 U.S.C. 44);  Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy (with a mail-order rifle), the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) was enacted by Congress to impose stricter licensing and regulation on the firearms industry, establish new categories of firearms offenses, and prohibits the sale of firearms and ammunition to felons and certain other prohibited persons.  The GCA was supplemented by the 1993 Brady Act, which requires Federal Firearm Licensees (FFL’s) to conduct background checks on all firearms purchasers through National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and related ATF regulations.  The NCIS system was fully implemented by the NCIS Improvement Act of 2008.  The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act further amended the GCA to, among other things, clarify that state laws do not prohibit interstate transport of firearms (provided such firearms are legal in the states of origin and destination and the transportation is otherwise compliant with federal law) so long as the firearms are unloaded and not readily accessible during transport.

Other federal statutes relating to firearms include the Arms Export Control Act and the Importation, Manufacture, Distribution and Storage of Explosive Materials Act.

Regulations and Enforcement:

Responsibility for enforcement of the federal firearms statutes is delegated to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) under the authority of the U.S. Justice Department.  The ATF promulgates regulations and issues administrative rulings that serve to interpret and define the enforcement parameters of the Gun Control Act and related statutes.  The primary ATF firearms regulations are set forth in the following Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provisions:

Importation of Arms, Ammunition and Implements of War (Title 27 CFR Chapter II, Part 447)

Commerce in Firearms and Ammunition (Title 27 CFR Chapter II, Part 478)

Machine Guns, Destructive Devices, and Certain Other Firearms (Title 27 CFR Chapter II, Part 479)

Helpful Links -Federal Gun Laws:

National Firearms Act – ATF Summary:    https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/national-firearms-act

National Firearms Act – ATF Handbook: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/national-firearms-act-handbook

National Firearms Act – NRA Summary:   https://www.nraila.org/get-the-facts/national-firearms-act-nfa/

Background Checks (NCIS) – FBI Resource Page: https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/nics

Federal Firearms License “Types” – ATF:  https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/types-federal-firearms-licenses-ffls

Special Occupancy Taxes (SOT) Summary – ATF: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/qa/when-must-firearms-special-occupational-taxes-be-paid-and-how-much-are-taxes

ATF Administrative Rulings: https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/rulings

ATF Forms: https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/forms-library

ATF – FAQ’s: https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/docs/0501-firearms-top-10-qaspdf/download

ATF Reference Guide: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/guide/federal-firearms-regulations-reference-guide-2014-edition-atf-p-53004/download

Interstate Transportation of Guns – NRA Summary: https://www.nraila.org/articles/20140630/guide-to-the-interstate-transportation

Citizens Guide to Federal Firearms Law – NRA Article: https://www.nraila.org/articles/20040324/citizen-s-guide-to-federal-firearms-law

Summary of Federal Firearms Laws – fedcoplaw.com: http://fedcoplaw.com/html/federal_firearms_laws.html

Federal Firearms Quick Reference:  https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ut/legacy/2013/06/03/guncard.pdf