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US Civil Liberties

Gun Rights

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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President Clinton signs into law the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, sometimes called the “Brady Bill,” which imposes a waiting period for handgun purchases. Many gun enthusiasts are infuriated by the new law. The Southern Poverty Law Center will later observe that the “Brady Bill” and a 1994 ban on some assault weapons (see September 13, 1994) help spark the nascent militia movement. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; US Government Info, 2010]

Entity Tags: Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Southern Poverty Law Center

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Gun Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms

Some of the assault weapons banned under the 1994 crime bill.Some of the assault weapons banned under the 1994 crime bill. [Source: Senator Dianne Feinstein]Congress authorizes the passage of the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, later named “The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act,” which among other elements outlaws 19 separate types of assault weapons. The original bill, HR 4092, passed the House of Representatives in April on a 285-141 vote. The House bill provides $28 billion in spending for police hiring and training, prison construction, and crime prevention; expands the death penalty to cover an array of federal crimes; introduces the federal “three strikes” provision that automatically incarcerates three-time felons for lengthy jail terms; includes the Racial Justice Act that allows defendants to challenge death-penalty sentences on a racial basis; and bans the sale or transfer of handguns to juveniles without parental consent. A separate House vote in May approved the ban on the sale of assault weapons by a narrow 216-214 vote, and the entire package went to the Senate for reconciliation with that body’s own crime bill. A later version of the bill increased spending to $30 billion, shifted more funds to police training and less to prison construction, and dropped the Racial Justice Act along with funding for a crime prevention center in Texas. On August 25, the Senate thwarted efforts by Republicans to reopen debate on the bill, and the bill passed on a final vote of 61-38. President Clinton signs the bill into law on September 13. Within days of its passage, Congressional Republicans will announce their intention to revamp the bill as part of their “Contract with America,” charging that it fails to address the “broken” criminal justice system that fails “to hold criminals accountable” for their actions. Many Republicans will base their intention to revamp the bill on their opposition to the assault weapons ban. [McCollum, 1994; Time, 9/5/1994]

Entity Tags: US Congress, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Gun Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms

April 25, 1996: New Anti-Terrorism Law Passed

President Clinton signs the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which the New York Times calls “broad legislation that provides new tools and penalties for federal law-enforcement officials to use in fighting terrorism.” The Clinton administration proposed the bill in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). In many ways, the original bill will be mirrored by the USA Patriot Act six years later (see October 26, 2001). Civil libertarians on both the left and right opposed the legislation. Political analyst Michael Freeman called the proposal one of the “worst assaults on civil liberties in decades,” and the Houston Chronicle called it a “frightening” and “grievous” assault on domestic freedoms. Many Republicans opposed the bill, and forced a compromise that removed increased wiretap authority and lower standards for lawsuits against sellers of guns used in crimes. CNN called the version that finally passed the Republican-controlled Congress a “watered-down version of the White House’s proposal. The Clinton administration has been critical of the bill, calling it too weak. The original House bill, passed last month, had deleted many of the Senate’s anti-terrorism provisions because of lawmakers’ concerns about increasing federal law enforcement powers. Some of those provisions were restored in the compromise bill.” [CNN, 4/18/1996; New York Times, 4/25/1996; Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] An unusual coalition of gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) led the opposition to the law. [New York Times, 4/17/1996] By the time Congress passed the bill, it had been, in the words of FBI Director Louis Freeh, “stripped… of just about every meaningful provision.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] The law makes it illegal in the US to provide “material support” to any organization banned by the State Department. [Guardian, 9/10/2001]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Louis J. Freeh, National Rifle Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Clinton administration, Michael Freeman, USA Patriot Act, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Patriot Act, Gun Rights

Michael Battle, the director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, sends a memo to Kyle Sampson, counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft, informing him that 16 US Attorneys’ offices are below standards—“underperforming”—in implementing Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a Justice Department initiative to reduce gun violence and prosecute offenders who use guns in the commission of crimes. One of the US Attorneys cited is Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002). The memo notes that Lam’s office returned “only 17 firearms indictments” in 2003, and that her office’s PSN indictments and defendants “per criminal work years for FY 2003 is the lowest in the nation.” Subsequent Justice Department analyses of PSN performance continue to identify Lam’s district as needing improvement in firearms prosecutions. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Carol C. Lam, D. Kyle Sampson, Michael A. Battle, Project Safe Neighborhoods

Category Tags: Gun Rights, 2006 US Attorney Firings

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) signs into law House Bill 246. It exempts Montana-made guns from federal regulation. The law is the latest in a long list of legislative initiatives designed to strip power from the federal government and give it to the states. “It’s a gun bill, but it’s another way of demonstrating the sovereignty of the state of Montana,” Schweitzer says. The impact is limited to Montana, which currently has only a small number of specialty gun makers who make mostly replica and recreation rifles from US history, and most of their customers are out of state. However, supporters of the new law hope it will trigger a court case testing the legal basis for federal rules governing gun sales. State Representative Joel Boniek (R-MT), who sponsored the bill, said during the House debate, “What we need here is for Montana to be able to handle Montana’s business and affairs.” Many legislators among the 50 states have introduced legislation designed to push back against what they see as unconstitutional federal intrusion, often in response to the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan. Some legislators consider themselves part of, or sympathetic to, the “tenther” movement, that construes the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution as vastly restrictive of the federal government’s powers. Another Montana representative, Michael More (R-MT), recently said of the gun bill and similar legislation, “The whole goal is to awaken the people so that we can return to a properly grounded republic.” Legislatures in 15 other states are considering resolutions that attempt to take back power from the federal government. “The balance has swung far to the extreme to the empowerment of the federal government, and to the harm of the individual states,” More says. However, critics warn that the “tenther” movement and the move to give power to the states is in line with anti-government militia ideals. “When you really actually get in and look at it there is a lot of what we feel is very dangerous, very anti-government language that reads very similar to posters for the militia movement in the 1990s,” says Travis McAdam of the Montana Human Rights Network. Montana Senator Christine Kaufmann (D-MT) says, “I do think that there is a kind of renewed vehemence to this kind of right-wing rhetoric being spewed by conservative talk show hosts to rile the troops and they are using the fact that we have a Democratic, black president as one of their rallying calls.” In Montana, the states’ rights bills are being sponsored by freshman legislators who were elected as part of an effort to oust more moderate Republicans and replace them with more conservative, “tea party-friendly” representatives. Supporters of House Bill 246 now intend to find someone to challenge a regulation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that requires federal dealership licensing to build and sell firearms; they will use that pretext to file a lawsuit that they hope will end in the Supreme Court. The Montana Shooting Sports Association, which drafted House Bill 246, has said it will raise the money to pay for any legal costs. [Associated Press, 4/16/2009] Author and columnist David Neiwert later notes, in agreement with Kaufmann, that the Montana gun bill echoes the ideas of “state sovereignty” promoted by radical-right militia groups and “constitutionalists” in the 1990s. The idea behind the bill originated with Charles Duke (R-CO), a far-right Colorado legislator from the 1990s who had close ties to the Rocky Mountain-area militias (see May 15-21, 1996). Duke is considered one of the first “tenther” proponents, and is popular with white supremacists who espouse the “Christian Identity” belief system (see 1960s and After). Neiwert will also note that the gun legislation prompts a series of segments from Fox News host Glenn Beck on the bill and how he hopes it is the first of a larger number of legislative and court initiatives that will ultimately cripple the federal government. [Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Montana Shooting Sports Association, David Neiwert, Christine Kaufmann, Charles Duke, Brian Schweitzer, Glenn Beck, Michael More, Obama administration, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Joel Boniek, US Supreme Court, Travis McAdam

Category Tags: Gun Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, 'Tenther' Initiative, Other Legal Changes

Gun rights advocates’ attempts to portray Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) as “anti-gun” hit a snag when a panel of conservative judges upholds her ruling in favor of restricting gun ownership. Sotomayor has been called an “anti-gun radical” by some activists for joining an opinion, cited in Maloney v. Cuomo, that found the Second Amendment does not prevent state and local governments from restricting arms ownership. That ruling, rejecting a challenge to Chicago’s tough gun laws, was unanimously upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is made up largely of conservative judges. The ruling could, according to the Washington Post, “complicate efforts to portray Sotomayor as a judicial activist trying to undermine the Supreme Court’s landmark decision last year holding that the amendment protects the right to own a gun for self-defense.” The Seventh Circuit’s opinion was written by chief judge Frank Easterbrook, described by the Post as “one of the nation’s leading conservative judges,” and joined by two Republican-appointed judges, including “conservative favorite Richard A. Posner.” Walter Dellinger, who argued a related case and supports Sotomayor’s nomination, says, “When two of the most highly regarded, conservative judges agree that courts of appeal should not reach out and make new law on this issue, it renders Judge Sotomayor’s opinion on this subject beyond criticism.” But some continue their opposition. David Kopel, a lawyer who has criticized Sotomayor’s stance on gun ownership, says the ruling will not change the views of gun activists that she is “anti-gun” and the Maloney opinion was intellectually “dishonest.” [Washington Post, 6/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Sonia Sotomayor, David Kopel, US Supreme Court, Frank Easterbrook, Walter Dellinger, Richard A. Posner

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Gun Rights, Sotomayor Nomination

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