Describe Public Policy: Any existing or proposed legislation by the government that pertains to the issue/problem at hand (i.e., a proposed bill, a course of action or an existing law already in place).

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AMERICAN GOVERNMENT POLICY PAPER RUBRIC DR. S. WAYMON Public Policy: Any existing or proposed legislation by the government that pertains to the issue/problem at hand (i.e., a proposed bill, a course of action or an existing law already in place). Your issue/problem of choice can come from any level (international, national, state, or local). For example, if one wanted to discuss gun control from a state government perspective, one could choose a particular law or proposed bill from a particular state (like Georgia) and critique that bill/law

Gun Control Policy in the United States: An Analysis of Recent Legislative Developments


Gun control has been a contentious issue in the United States for many years. With the frequency of mass shootings and gun-related violence, the debate over gun control policy has intensified. This policy paper examines the recent legislative developments in gun control at the federal and state levels within the last five years. The analysis focuses on key bills, proposals, and laws that have been enacted or considered, aiming to provide a comprehensive understanding of the current state of gun control policy in America. By examining the history, public opinion, and the impact of recent legislation, this paper seeks to contribute to the ongoing discourse surrounding gun control in the United States.


The issue of gun control in the United States has been a topic of debate for decades. Advocates for stricter gun control laws argue that they are necessary to reduce gun-related violence and mass shootings, while opponents argue that such measures infringe upon Second Amendment rights and are ineffective in preventing crime. In recent years, this debate has reached a fever pitch as the country grapples with the tragic consequences of mass shootings in places like Parkland, Las Vegas, and Orlando.

This policy paper aims to provide an in-depth analysis of the current state of gun control policy in the United States by examining recent legislative developments at both the federal and state levels. The paper will consider key bills, proposals, and laws that have been enacted or considered within the last five years. By doing so, it will shed light on the ongoing efforts to address this pressing issue and the challenges faced by policymakers in finding a balanced approach that respects both the right to bear arms and the need to protect public safety.

I. Historical Context

To understand the current state of gun control policy in the United States, it is essential to consider its historical context. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791, states, “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.” This amendment has been a foundational element in the debate over gun control, as it enshrines the right of American citizens to own firearms.

Throughout U.S. history, the interpretation of the Second Amendment has evolved, leading to different approaches to gun control. In the 19th century, there were few federal regulations on firearms, and states largely controlled gun laws. It was not until the 20th century that federal gun control measures were introduced, beginning with the National Firearms Act of 1934, which imposed restrictions on certain categories of firearms.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 followed, establishing a comprehensive federal framework for regulating firearms. This act introduced background checks for gun buyers, prohibited certain categories of individuals from purchasing firearms, and set a minimum age for handgun purchases. It marked a significant step in federal gun control legislation.

Subsequent legislative developments included the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, which mandated background checks for all handgun purchases from licensed dealers, and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which restricted the sale of certain semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines. However, the latter expired in 2004 and was not renewed.

II. Public Opinion on Gun Control

Public opinion on gun control in the United States is diverse and often deeply divided along political lines. Various surveys and polls provide insights into the attitudes and beliefs of Americans regarding this issue. Understanding public opinion is crucial for policymakers, as it can influence the development and passage of gun control legislation.

A. Support for Stricter Gun Control Measures

Public support for stricter gun control measures has fluctuated over the years but has generally increased in the aftermath of high-profile mass shootings. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2020, 57% of Americans expressed support for stricter gun control laws, while 34% believed that they should remain as they are, and 9% favored less strict laws. This marked an increase in support compared to previous years.

Several specific gun control measures have received widespread support from the American public:

  1. Universal Background Checks: A significant majority of Americans, including gun owners, support universal background checks for all gun purchases. This measure is seen as a way to prevent individuals with criminal records or mental health issues from obtaining firearms.
  2. Red Flag Laws: Red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, allow for the temporary removal of firearms from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others. These laws have garnered support for their potential to prevent suicides and acts of violence.
  3. Assault Weapons Ban: While support for a complete ban on assault weapons is lower than for other measures, a notable percentage of Americans favor restrictions on the sale and possession of such firearms.

B. Political Polarization

Gun control is a deeply polarizing issue in American politics. The divide often falls along party lines, with Democrats generally advocating for stricter gun control measures and Republicans favoring the protection of Second Amendment rights. This political polarization has made it challenging to pass comprehensive federal gun control legislation.

The role of interest groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), has also contributed to this polarization. The NRA is a powerful advocacy organization that opposes many forms of gun control and has successfully lobbied against certain legislative proposals.

III. Recent Federal Legislative Developments

In recent years, there have been several significant federal legislative developments related to gun control. This section examines key bills and proposals that have been considered by the U.S. Congress, including those introduced within the last five years.

A. H.R. 8: Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019

H.R. 8, known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, aimed to expand background checks for firearm sales. The bill proposed that all firearm transfers, including private sales, be subject to a background check conducted through a licensed dealer. This measure was intended to close the so-called “gun show loophole” and address concerns about private sales without background checks.

The bill garnered significant support from Democrats, who argued that it was a common-sense measure to prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands. However, it faced opposition from many Republicans, who viewed it as an infringement on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

H.R. 8 passed the House of Representatives in February 2019 but did not advance in the Senate, where it faced a Republican majority. Despite its failure at the federal level, the bill highlighted the ongoing debate over background checks and the challenges of achieving bipartisan consensus on this issue.

B. H.R. 1112: Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019

H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019, sought to extend the waiting period for background checks from three to ten business days for firearm purchases. The bill aimed to address concerns about the “Charleston loophole,” which allowed firearms to be transferred to buyers if a background check had not been completed within three days.

Supporters of the bill argued that the ten-day waiting period would provide more time for thorough background checks, reducing the risk of firearms ending up in the hands of prohibited individuals. Opponents, however, contended that it could unduly delay law-abiding citizens’ ability to purchase firearms.

H.R. 1112 passed the House of Representatives in February 2019 but faced resistance in the Senate, where it did not advance. The bill underscored the ongoing debate over waiting periods and the balance between public safety and Second Amendment rights.

C. H.R. 1296: Assault Weapons Ban of 2019

H.R. 1296, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, sought to reinstate a federal ban on the sale, manufacture, and possession of certain semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines. The bill aimed to address concerns about the use of these weapons in mass shootings.

Proponents argued that such a ban would help reduce the lethality of mass shootings and protect public safety. However, opponents contended that the ban would infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners and that the effectiveness of such measures was debatable.

H.R. 1296 faced significant opposition in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and did not advance beyond committee hearings. The bill highlighted the deep divisions surrounding the issue of assault weapons bans and the challenges of passing such legislation at the federal level.

D. Executive Actions

In addition to legislative efforts, the executive branch of the U.S. government has taken actions related to gun control. President Joe Biden, in April 2021, announced a series of executive actions aimed at addressing gun violence. These actions included:

  1. Regulating “Ghost Guns”: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was directed to propose a rule to regulate “ghost guns” (homemade firearms without serial numbers) more effectively.
  2. Restricting Stabilizing Braces: The ATF was directed to propose a rule on stabilizing braces, which can be used to modify pistols into short-barreled rifles, subjecting them to stricter regulations.
  3. Publishing Model “Red Flag” Legislation: The Department of Justice was tasked with publishing model “red flag” legislation for states, encouraging them to adopt extreme risk protection orders.
  4. Funding Community Violence Interventions: The administration committed to providing funding to support community violence intervention programs.

While these executive actions did not constitute new legislation, they represented an effort by the executive branch to address gun violence through regulatory changes and support for state-level initiatives.

IV. Recent State Legislative Developments

In addition to federal legislative developments, gun control policy has been a focus at the state level. States have significant authority to enact their own firearm regulations, leading to a diverse landscape of gun laws across the country. This section examines notable state-level legislative developments within the last five years.

A. Universal Background Checks

Several states have passed legislation to expand background checks for all firearm sales, including private transactions. For example, in 2019, Nevada enacted Senate Bill 143, which requires background checks for private gun sales and transfers, with some exceptions. Other states, such as Colorado and Washington, have also passed similar measures.

These state-level actions reflect efforts to address the perceived weaknesses in federal background check requirements and close potential loopholes in the sale of firearms.

B. Red Flag Laws

The implementation of red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, has gained traction in various states. These laws allow family members, law enforcement, or medical professionals to petition the court to temporarily remove firearms from individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others.

States like Florida, Maryland, and California have passed red flag laws in recent years. These laws aim to prevent gun-related suicides and potential acts of violence by temporarily restricting access to firearms for individuals in crisis.

C. Assault Weapons Bans

Several states have taken steps to ban or restrict the sale and possession of assault weapons. For instance, in 2019, New Jersey passed legislation banning the possession of large-capacity magazines and regulating assault weapons. Similarly, California has enacted stringent laws regarding the sale and ownership of assault weapons.

These state-level bans often vary in scope and specifics, reflecting the diversity of approaches taken by different states in addressing the issue of assault weapons.

D. Concealed Carry Laws

States continue to grapple with concealed carry laws, which dictate who may carry concealed firearms in public places and under what circumstances. While some states have moved to loosen restrictions on concealed carry, others have enacted stricter regulations.

For example, in 2020, Virginia enacted legislation allowing localities to regulate the possession, carrying, and transportation of firearms in public buildings and at permitted events. This demonstrated a shift toward more permissive concealed carry laws in the state.

E. Stand Your Ground Laws

Stand your ground laws, which remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense, have been a topic of debate in various states. Some states have expanded or reinforced their stand your ground laws, while others have sought to repeal or limit their application.

The state of Florida, where the controversial shooting of Trayvon Martin occurred, has been at the center of this debate. The state’s stand your ground law was amended in 2017 to shift the burden of proof to prosecutors in cases involving self-defense claims.

V. Challenges and Controversies

The ongoing debate over gun control policy in the United States is characterized by numerous challenges and controversies. These issues cut across legislative, legal, and societal dimensions, making it a complex and deeply divisive topic.

A. Second Amendment Interpretation

A fundamental challenge in the gun control debate is the interpretation of the Second Amendment. While the Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) affirmed an individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense, they also recognized that this right is not unlimited and can be subject to reasonable regulations.

The interpretation of what constitutes “reasonable regulations” has been a subject of contention, with differing views on the scope of permissible gun control measures. The legal framework surrounding the Second Amendment continues to evolve through court cases, adding uncertainty to the policy landscape.

B. Political Polarization

The deep political polarization surrounding gun control has hindered legislative progress at the federal level. The influence of interest groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the fear of electoral consequences have made it challenging for lawmakers to reach bipartisan consensus on comprehensive gun control legislation.

The gun control debate has become a highly partisan issue, with Democrats generally advocating for stricter measures and Republicans resisting such efforts. This polarization has resulted in gridlock in Congress and a lack of comprehensive federal gun control laws.

C. State Variations

The diversity of gun laws across states presents a significant challenge. While some states have enacted stringent gun control measures, others have adopted more permissive approaches. This patchwork of laws creates complexities for law enforcement and can enable individuals to bypass restrictions in one state by purchasing firearms in another with less regulation.

State-level variations also mean that the impact of gun control policies can differ widely depending on where one lives, leading to disparities in gun-related outcomes and potentially exacerbating the challenges of preventing illegal firearm trafficking.

D. Efficacy of Measures

Another source of controversy is the efficacy of various gun control measures. Critics argue that many proposed measures, such as assault weapons bans and magazine restrictions, may have limited impact on reducing overall gun violence or mass shootings. They contend that more focus should be placed on addressing the root causes of violence, including mental health issues and socioeconomic factors.

Proponents, on the other hand, assert that each measure contributes to the broader goal of reducing gun-related harm. The effectiveness of specific policies is often the subject of research and debate among scholars, further complicating the decision-making process for policymakers.

VI. Future Directions and Policy Recommendations

The debate over gun control policy in the United States is likely to continue as policymakers grapple with the complex and multifaceted issue of gun violence. To move forward, several future directions and policy recommendations should be considered:

A. Comprehensive Federal Legislation

While federal gun control legislation has faced significant challenges, there is a need for comprehensive reforms that address the gaps and inconsistencies in the current patchwork of state laws. Federal legislation could provide a more unified and coordinated approach to gun control, particularly concerning background checks, waiting periods, and restrictions on certain firearm categories.

Efforts should focus on finding common ground between proponents of gun control and defenders of Second Amendment rights to facilitate bipartisan support. Public opinion, as well as input from law enforcement agencies and experts, should inform the crafting of legislation.

B. Evidence-Based Policies

Policymakers should prioritize evidence-based policies that are likely to have a measurable impact on reducing gun violence. This includes conducting rigorous research on the effectiveness of various measures and regularly reviewing and updating gun control laws based on empirical data.

Efforts should also be made to identify and address the root causes of gun violence, such as mental health issues, poverty, and urban violence. A comprehensive approach that combines gun control measures with social and mental health support is essential for long-term success.

C. Public Health Approach

Adopting a public health perspective on gun violence can help shift the focus from solely regulating firearms to preventing harm. This approach includes initiatives such as:

  1. Research and Data Collection: Invest in research on gun violence as a public health issue, similar to the study of other epidemics. Collect comprehensive data on gun-related injuries and fatalities to guide policy decisions.
  2. Community-Based Interventions: Support community programs and violence prevention initiatives that address the root causes of violence and provide support to at-risk individuals.
  3. Mental Health Services: Improve access to mental health services and identify individuals at risk of violence due to mental health issues, offering appropriate interventions.

D. Strengthening Background Checks

Universal background checks for all gun purchases, including private sales, should be a priority. Strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and closing loopholes that allow individuals to evade background checks are essential steps.

Moreover, improving the sharing of information between law enforcement agencies and the NICS database is crucial to ensure that prohibited individuals do not acquire firearms.

E. Extreme Risk Protection Orders

States should consider enacting and implementing extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws, also known as “red flag” laws. ERPOs can help prevent gun violence by temporarily removing firearms from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others. These orders should include due process protections to safeguard individual rights.

F. Research Funding

Increase funding for research on gun violence prevention and the impact of gun control measures. Federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), should be allowed to conduct research on gun violence as a public health issue, free from political restrictions.

G. Safe Storage and Education

Promote responsible gun ownership through education and awareness campaigns, emphasizing safe storage practices. Encourage the use of gun safes and lockboxes to prevent unauthorized access to firearms, especially by children and individuals at risk of harming themselves or others.

H. Engaging Stakeholders

Engage stakeholders from diverse backgrounds in the discussion on gun control policy. This includes law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals, firearm industry representatives, and advocacy groups on both sides of the issue. Seeking common ground and shared solutions can lead to more effective policies.


The issue of gun control in the United States is a deeply complex and contentious one, with a long history of debate and legislative action. Recent developments at the federal and state levels have highlighted the challenges and controversies surrounding this issue. While there is no easy solution, it is crucial to continue the dialogue and consider evidence-based policies that prioritize public safety while respecting individual rights.

The Second Amendment’s interpretation, political polarization, and the diversity of state laws all contribute to the complexity of gun control policy. To make meaningful progress, policymakers should prioritize comprehensive federal legislation, evidence-based policies, and a public health approach to gun violence prevention. Strengthening background checks, implementing extreme risk protection orders, and investing in research and education are crucial steps toward a safer and more informed approach to gun control in the United States.


  1. Gallup. (2020). In U.S., Support for Stricter Gun Laws Edges Down.
  2. United States Congress. (2019). H.R. 8 – Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.
  3. United States Congress. (2019). H.R. 1112 – Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019.
  4. United States Congress. (2019). H.R. 1296 – Assault Weapons Ban of 2019.
  5. The White House. (2021). Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Initial Actions to Address the Gun Violence Public Health Epidemic.
  6. National Conference of State Legislatures. (2021). Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
  7. Giffords Law Center. (2021). The Truth About Red Flag Laws.

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