Gun Control Act of 1968
The Gun Control Act of 1968 was the first major piece of gun control legislation to be enacted since the Federal Firearms Act of 1938. The act was contained in two statutes: Titles IV and VII of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (82 Stat. 225, 236), and the Gun Control Act (82 Stat. 1213). The act placed controls on those people engaged in the sale of firearms and essentially replaced the Federal Firearms Act of 1938.
The effort to pass a new gun control law began in 1963 when the Senate Judiciary Committee considered a bill prohibiting mail-order sales of handguns to minors. The long trail of events leading to final passage in 1968 included several assassinations. After President John Kennedy was shot and killed in November 1963, supporters expanded the bill to include a ban on mail-order sales of shotguns and rifles. However, the lobbying efforts of anti-gun control forces, headed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), were successful in keeping the bill locked in committee.
Growing concern over violence led several states and municipalities to enact legislation of their own, which proved to be another impetus toward national action. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy in 1968 provided the crucial momentum toward congressional action. The legislation, the result of considerable compromise, pleased few. Those opposing gun control finally accepted the bill, fearing the possibility of even more rigorous provisions, and supporters were disappointed that stronger restrictions were not included.
Among its provisions, the legislation strengthened the firearms licensing process to limit foreign and interstate transport of firearms to legitimate manufacturers, dealers, and importers. The act prohibited the interstate shipment of pistols and revolvers to private individuals. Gun buyers could only purchase a handgun in the state in which they resided. The licensing fee for federal firearms dealers was increased from $1 to $10 and minors were forbidden from receiving a license. Dealers could not sell rifles, shotguns, or ammunition to anyone under 18, or pistols and ammunition to anyone under 21. Dealers and collectors were required to keep more complete records. The legislation prohibited importation of foreign military surplus firearms, except those used in hunting, and extended the National Firearms Act of 1934 by requiring registration
and a transfer tax on such “destructive devices” as antitank guns, bazookas, and mortars.
Focusing on criminal activity, the act forbade convicted felons, the mentally incompetent, and drug addicts from shipping or receiving weapons via interstate commerce, and licensed dealers could not knowingly sell weapons to these categories of people. Anyone who used a firearm to commit a crime that involved breaking a federal law was subject to additional punishment, which included a minimum of one year in prison. Although the legislation represented a significant step forward for those advocating gun control, the measure failed to meet Democratic President Lyndon Johnson's primary objective: to require national registration and licensing of firearms.
Further Reading: Lee Kennett and James La Verne Anderson, The Gun in America: The Origins of a National Dilemma (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1975); Earl R. Kruschke, Gun Control (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1995); Robert J. Spitzer, The Politics of Gun Control (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2008).