Continuing the series we began with the National Firearms Act of 1934, we now turn our eyes to the Gun Control Act of 1968, the biggest federal firearms legislation subsequent to the NFA.
On October 22, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Gun Control Act into law. Many of its effects remain to this day; yet another example of the deterioration of our rights becoming the status quo. This bill was introduced ostensibly in response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, whose alleged murderer had used a rifle obtained through a mail-order purchase. Interestingly, the NRA supported the passage of this bill, likely pressured by the intense politicization of JFK’s death – we know that regardless of how the assailant acquired the weapon, they wouldn’t have worried about breaking another law in the process of committing murder. A quote spoken by the contemporaneous Vice President of the NRA, Franklin Orth, gives evidence to the political pressure placed on the group so as not to be labeled “evil”: “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”
The effects of this bill are still largely in place today. One of the most obvious effects is that Americans can no longer order shotguns, rifles, pistols, or other firearms by mail and have them arrive directly at their residence: the firearm must be “transferred” through a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder. This is the current system, and it is hard to believe that it could ever have been different – a sad state for current gun owners to not even know what freedoms we now lack.
Another part of the bill was the prohibition of certain persons from purchasing firearms, most notably felons, convicted drug offenders, and the mentally incompetent. Again, this is not to be construed as legal advice, but rather to help provide insight into the questions that you are asked when you purchase a firearm (when filling out Form 4473 at your local FFL). Additionally, this bill mandated the assignment of serial numbers to all firearms manufactured or imported into the United States. Removing this serial number is a felony, as enacted by the bill.
One of the more controversial aspects of this bill is also the “sporting purposes” requirement for the import of any new firearm. This phrase is vague and unfortunately has limited the import of many fine foreign firearms and led to many companies, such as Heckler and Koch, to release “neutered” versions of their firearms (e.g. the HK UMP was released as the “USC;” the G36 as the “SL8,” and the HK416 as the “MR556” – all rifles with more “military” aspects neutered in favor of “sporting” designs: folding stocks replaced with fixed stocks, cold hammer-forged barrels replaced with heavy stainless barrels, etc.).
There are many other aspects of this bill, like any other, that are beyond the scope of a simple article like this.
Historical facts verified by: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_Control_Act_of_1968