Gun control and possession have been an important and vivid topic for American citizens throughout history. Initially, the reason was gaining sovereignty from the British crown, then, as a result of the Declaration of Independence of 1776, a collectively formed nation was believed to be a land of free and independent people who treated the right to bear arms as a guarantor of their autonomy. It is a direct confession of the ideas of John Locke, who, in his work “Second Treatise of Government,” laid down the foundations of the theory of natural law that guided the Founding Fathers of the United States.
The 2nd amendment, which has granted the citizens of the United States the right to keep and bear arms since 1791 remains unchanged in the Constitution until today. Therefore, it has also been a bone of contraction, and a subject of discussion throughout American society. The discussion is usually evoked after unexpected and shocking crimes persecuted with the use of any kind of firearm causing social unrest and a lack of trust in public safety. The most dramatic examples of the rising topic of gun control are mass shootings, which happen in the United States often, and are used mostly by the left, Democratic side of the political scene to interfere with regulations, thus limiting the legal frames of the 2nd amendment and pro-gun legislative rules defended by definitely more conservative Republicans. The distinction between political parties and their supporters leads to the heart of the American legislation, which is the United States Congress. After a series of notorious mass shootings in the years 2011–2012, a huge number of protesters demonstrated throughout the country with the main protest taking place in front of Capitol Hill on December 17, 2012. People demanded that both the newly formed at that time 113th US Congress and President Barack Obama take an official stance on the subject of gun control and embrace a legislative action toward restrictions within the gun law regulations. Responding to the phenomena of mass shootings, the latter introduced the proposal of reform; however, the 113th Congress did not significantly improve gun control laws keeping the voices of thousands of protesters around the country unanswered.
Mass shootings which happened in the United States in the years 2011–2012 were especially cruel and uncovered gaps in both federal and national legislation regarding gun control. The very first of the cases mentioned cases happened in Tucson, AZ. On 8 January 2011, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ) and 18 other people were shot during a constituent meeting in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, AZ. As a result of the attack, six people died, including federal District Court Chief Judge John Roll; Gabe Zimmerman, one of Giffords’ staffers; and a nine-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green. Gifford was holding a meeting when Jared Lee Loughner aimed his pistol at her and shot her in the head before opening fire at other people. The perpetrator was arrested at the crime scene and sentenced to life in prison. Another massive-scale shooting happened more than one year later in Aurora, CO where on July 20, 2012, during a screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises, James Eagan Holmes, using tear gas grenades, set off the scene of mass murder shooting into the audience with multiple firearms. The results of that were twelve people killed and 70 others injured, 58 of them from gunfire. It was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Holmes was arrested in his car outside the cinema minutes later, and as a result of his crime, he got sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He also received 3,318 years for the attempted murders of those he wounded. The last major event with the biggest impact on the awakening of the people was Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT. December 14, 2012. It was when a 20-year-old male entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot 20 first graders and 6 adult staff members to death. Before the massacre at school, he also shot his mother to death. According to press accounts, the firearms he used in the shooting included a 5.56 mm Bushmaster (M16-style) semiautomatic rifle, and two semiautomatic pistols, a 10 mm Glock and 9 mm Sig Sauer. Firearms used by the shooter were reportedly owned legally by his mother and were registered under Connecticut state law.
All of these crimes restarted the national gun control debate that was about to happen in the 113th Congress, which lasted from January 3, 2013, to January 3, 2015, during the fifth and sixth years of Barack Obama’s presidency. It was based on the 2012 House of Representatives and Senate elections. In the House of Representatives, the majority was held by Republican Party, with its speaker John Boehner (R-OH), while the Senate was taken over by Democrats with President of the Senate Joseph Biden and President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The first initiative of gun law restriction came from the President of the United States, Barack Obama, who established a Task Force on Gun Violence under the leadership of Vice President Joseph R. Biden six days after the Sandy Hook shooting. On January 16, 2013, the White House released a document entitled: Now Is the Time: The President’s Plan to Protect Our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence. Three of most prominent legislative proposals included in the President’s plan would have required background checks for intrastate firearm transfers between unlicensed persons at gun shows and other venues, otherwise known as the ‘universal background checks’ proposal; increased penalties for gun trafficking; and reinstated and strengthened an expired federal ban on detachable ammunition magazines of over 10-round capacity and certain ‘military-style’ firearms commonly described as ‘semiautomatic assault weapons,’ which are designed to accept such magazines.
In response to the Newtown shooting and the proposal of Obama’s administration, the US Senate worked on various legislative proposals. The bills that would have required universal background checks for firearms transfers increased criminal gun trafficking penalties and restricted certain types of firearms. According to President Obama’s initiative, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the following four bills related to gun control:
1. Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 (S.54) – straw purchasing and gun trafficking prohibitions and increase related penalties;
2. Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013 (S.374) – background checks for private firearms transfers, and encouraged states to provide the FBI with greater access to prohibited persons for background check purposes;
3. School Safety Enhancement Act of 2013 (S.146) – annual appropriations of up to $40 million for the next 10 years for the Secure Our Schools grant program under the Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS);
4. Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (S.150) – ban for the further production or importation of certain semiautomatic firearms, as well as high-capacity magazines.
The votes on S.374 and S.150 cleaved out party lines 10-8. Senator Charles E. Grassley (the Committee’s ranking minority Member; R-IA) voted for the gun trafficking bill (S.54) establishing the vote on the measure 11-7. The bill S.146 was approved by vote 14-4.
The bills came out from the Committee to be tested by the Senate floor action on April 17–18, 2013. The bills S.54, S.374, and S.146 were introduced to the floor by Senator Harry Reid on March 21, 2013, as the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 (S.649) However, it did not include the Assault Weapon Ban Act, which was offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein as an amendment to the previously mentioned S.649. The bill introduced by Feinstein and 24 Democratic cosponsors assumed a one-feature test for a firearm to qualify as an assault weapon (it would stop the average gun owner from wanting to purchase a neutered rifle), which, as mentioned above, banned such firearms from purchase and transportation (it was defeated in the Senate on April 17, 2013, by a vote of 40 to 60). Altogether, the Senate took into consideration and voted on nine amendments concerning various aspects of gun control policy. The chamber declared unanimity that in the adoption of those amendments the 60-vote threshold will be required. Of the nine amendments voted, only two were adopted by the Senate. Those were:
- Senator John Barrasso who reported an amendment S.Amdt.714 which would have required a 5% reduction of Community Oriented Policing Services grants to state and local governments that release information on gun owners. The amendment was adopted by a yea-nay vote: 67–30 (roll call vote no. 104).
- Senator Tom Herkin, who offered an amendment S.Amdt.730 that would have expanded grant programs related to mental health and substance abuse, was not pleased with the decision. The amendment was adopted by a yea-nay vote: 95–2 (roll call vote no. 105).
The Senate amendment tracking system says that there were an additional 20 amendments regarding bill S.649 and ready for possible consideration. However, the Senate did not come back to the floor action on the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. William J. Krouse comments in his paper “Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress” that the report of the Senate amendment tacking system “includes discussion of most, but not all, of the major provisions in these amendments; however, it does not include any discussion of the Harkin amendment and related mental health and substance abuse programs, which arguably fall outside of the scope of federal gun control”.
A salient role in the Senate legislation was played by the advocacy, or interest groups such as Gun Owners of America or Institute for Legislative Action “Stop the Gun Ban”. Most of them support the second amendment and put pressure on Senators to make sure they withdraw from proceeding with the gun control legislation, which might have put them at the risk of not getting potential reelection. The failure of S.649 in the Senate could have been the same time a political failure of the legislators. The majority of the Senate in the 113th Congress was affiliated with the Democratic party (53+2 D to 45 R), so it was vividly interested in restricting gun policies. Why did the bill not get accepted then? The answer to that could be the background of some of the Democratic Senators. Despite the official party line, along with President Obama supporting gun control laws, some Democratic senators voted against it to satisfy their constituents. Such a situation happened for instance for Senator Mark Pryor (D-AK), who voted against S.649. He got elected to the US Senate from Arkansas, the place which, as the 2012 House and Senate elections show, was almost purely Republican. In fact, Senator Pryor was the only Democrat elected from that state. He, as a representative of the mostly conservative Arkansas constituency, took a responsibility to vote accordingly to the will of the people of his state, not his party line. He did what James M. Buchanan in the book “The Calculus of Consent” calls an ‘individual ethical decision’. The author says: “However, in order to describe this function, some individual must make quite explicit his own value judgments. There is no escape from the responsibility of individual ethical decision.” The ethical decision in Pryor’s case was to vote in the name of the majority of constituents of his state, however, it was also aligned with his political interest. Other senators who broke the Democratic party line and voted for non-nay were, for instance: Harry Reid (D-NV); Max Baucus (D-MT); Mark Begich (D-AK). The final vote on the S.649 bill also did not take place. It means that the bill was not enacted, and therefore it died in the 113th Congress.
The House of Representatives also resumed deliberations on the topic of gun control in the United States. The very first bill concerning gun control was introduced in the chamber on August 1, 2013. It was the response to another mass shooting that occurred in Santa Monica earlier that year. Ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced the new legislation titled the Gun Violence Prevention and Reduction Act of 2013 (H.R.2910). The bill was intended to protect American children and their families from the epidemic of gun violence. H.R2910 was offered to ban access to assault types of guns and assault firearm kits. It also made it unlawful to market or advertise those kinds of weapons. The legislation offered to strengthen the Nation’s mental health infrastructure and improve understanding of gun violence. Original co-sponsors of the bill are Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) and Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL). The legislative project was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, from where it was directed to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade; the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, and the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions. No further action took place after that, therefore the bill died in the 113th Congress.
Another legislative initiative in the House of Representatives came from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). He offered a successful amendment to the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill (H.R.5016). As a background for Massie’s action was the District of Columbia vs. Heller case from June 26, 2008. The dispute covered the topic of the constitutionality of a DC law that essentially banned handguns for 32 years. What is more, the DC law required all firearms within the district to be registered and all owners to be licensed; it also prohibited any further registration of handguns after September 24, 1976. With a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found the district’s handgun ban unconstitutional, thus violating the Second Amendment. Since then, the DC Council has implemented several rights to adjust to the Supreme Court decision. The Council also proceeded to address other elements of the DC gun law. Some Members of Congress found those DC laws to be not parallel with the spirit of the Heller decision or otherwise objectionable and have sponsored proposals to block the implementation of those DC laws. Thomas Massie worked along the way and offered an amendment (H.Amdt. 1098) to the H.R. 5016 that would have prohibited the use of any funding provided under this bill to enforce any provision of the:
– Inoperable Pistol Amendment Act of 2008 (D.C. Law 17-388),
– Firearms Amendment Act of 2012 (D.C. Law 19-170), or
– Administrative Disposition for Weapons Offenses Amendment Act of 2012 (D.C. Law 19-295).
The Massie amendment was taken into consideration and adopted on recorded vote 241–181 (roll call vote no. 425). The House passed H.R. 5016 with the Massie amendment (§922 of the engrossed bill) on July 16, 2014. The House did not debate any wider gun control proposals such as, for instance, universal background checks (it took place in the Senate), however, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved Representative Jeff Miller’s (R-FL) bill called the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act (H.R.602), by voice vote. It says:
a person who is a beneficiary of disability compensation and pension programs administered by the VA, who is mentally incapacitated, deemed mentally incompetent, or experiencing an extended loss of consciousness could not be considered “adjudicated as a mental defective” for the purposes of federal firearms eligibility determinations, without the order or finding of a judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority of competent jurisdiction that such person is a danger to himself or herself or others.
Of the similar content consisted Grassley GOP substitute, Manchin-Toomey, or Burr amendments to already mentioned S.649, which was considered in the Senate, but rejected. The bill (H.R.602) was reported to the House Committee on July 19, 2013. The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs offered a nearly identical legislation proposal – S.572 on September 14, 2013. However, neither bill was considered on the House or Senate floor. Looking at history, in the three previous Congresses, comparable legislation has been considered and passed by either one or both chambers.
The last important piece of gun control legislation in the House of the 113th Congress was related to the subject of hunting, fishing, recreational shooting and firearms carry on so-called ‘public lands’. Promotion of these activities has always been a vivid intention of the gun rights community. The House passed the proposed Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (H.R. 3590) on February 5, 2014, by a recorded vote: 268–154 (roll call vote no. 41). The one provision of this bill related to gun control says that “under this act of any component of any firearms ammunition (shot, bullets, and other projectiles, propellants, and primers) and sport fishing equipment (e.g., lead sinkers) that are subject to federal manufacturer excise taxes, namely the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act (16 U.S.C. §669a) and provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. §4161(a)), respectively.”
The 113th Congress action, which undoubtedly should be marked as a legislative success of both chambers, was passing a 10-year extension of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 (H.R.3626). The bill makes it illegal to manufacture, sell, ship, import, possess, deliver, transfer, and receive any firearm that after the removal of its grips, stocks, or magazines, is not possible to detect as a ‘security exemplar’ by a walk-through metal detector. According to congressional sources, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has apparently constructed a security exemplar, which the law imposes on the manufacturer to be made of 3.7 ounces of stainless steel and in a shape resembling a handgun. Prolonged H.R.3626 was signed into law by President Barack Obama and is valid until December 10, 2023.
The last response of the legislative branch of the United States federal government in years 2013-2015 was bills concerning gun trafficking and straw purchases. The importance of public safety and responsibility for the 2nd amendment right that affects not only American citizens but also countries bordering with the US, for instance, Mexico (it is estimated that 253,000 guns purchased annually in the US trafficked to Mexico) was a reason for Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D, NY) to introduce a proposal titled Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 (S.179) that would establish a federal law tackling ‘trafficking in firearms’ under two clauses. The bill reserved that:
2) It would be unlawful to consciously direct, promote, or facilitate such conduct. Violations of either provisions would lead to a punishment executed in fine and/or not more than 20 years of imprisonment. What is more, the legislative proposal reserves that anyone, who committed a crime acting as an organizer, supervisor, or any other management position in co-operation with five or more persons would have been subject of to not more than 25 years of imprisonment.
The bill would have denounced gun trafficking (under the first provision) or would have made any form of conspiracy unlawful as well (under the second provision). Similar legislative action was introduced in the House, where Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) offered a bill H.R.452. Coming back to S.179, it was approved by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, nevertheless, it has never been a subject of Senate floor action and died in the 113th Congress. Another action took place in the House, where Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) reintroduced a proposal of the Straw Purchaser Enhancement Act (H.R. 404) guarantying a two-year mandatory sentence for straw purchasing or making a false statement concerning the transfer of firearms. It was introduced as an amendment to the GCA (the Gun Control Act). The bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, however, it has never been directed to further consideration.
Gun control policy in the 113th Congress can be analyzed in various ways because it offered legislation proposals approaching many different aspects of gun control. The center of American legislation, which met from January 3rd, 2013, to January 3rd, 2015 was put into a defensive position after a series of mass shootings overwhelmed the entire country. Shootings in Tucson, AZ; Aurora, CO, and Newtown, CT, delivered a clear signal to both the legislative and executive branches of the government. Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, President Barack Obama announced that his second term would be dedicated to battling crimes committed with the use of firearms. In reality, he did not execute any significant change in the area of gun control, appointing the new ATF director, starting a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign, or proposing a few legislative projects that after being advocated by some of his fellow Democrats either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, mostly died in the 113th Congress.
Buchanan, James Tullock, Gordon The Calculus of Consent, Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy Vol.3; Liberty3; Liberty Fund, 1999, pp. 283–-284
Flitter, Emily, Dan Burns, “Connecticut Gunman Had Hundreds of Rounds; Obama to Console Newtown,” Reuters, December 16, 2012.
H.R. 2910 — 113th Congress: Gun Violence Prevention and Reduction Act of 2013.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 16, 2020, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr2910.
H.R. 602 — 113th Congress: Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 18, 2020, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr602.
https://web.archive.org/web/20140207030028/https://waxman.house.gov/press-release/rep-waxman-and-house-democrats-introduce-gun-violence-prevention-and-reduction-act, accessed May 18, 2020.
Krouse, William J. “Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress.” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, R42987, January 8, 2015.,
Lacey, Marc; David M. Herszenhorn (January 9, 2011). “In Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions”. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on January 10, 2011. Retrieved on May 17, 2020.
O’Neill, Ann (August 26, 2015). “Theater shooter Holmes gets 12 life sentences, plus 3,318 years”. CNN. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
Roll call list of the vote on S.649, https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=113&session=1&vote=00097, accessed May 22, 202022,2020.
S. 150 — 113th Congress: Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 16, 2020, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s150.
S. 179 — 113th Congress: Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 19, 2020, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s179″ https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s179.
S. 649 — 113th Congress: Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 16, 2020, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s649.
Topher McDougal et Al., Igarape Inst.&Univ. Of San Diego Trans-Border Inst., The Way of The Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across The U.S-Mexico Border , 5 (2013).
White House, Now Is the Time: The President’s Plan to Protect our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence, January 16, 2013, http://www.wh.gov/now-is-the-tim.
 Lacey, Marc; David M. Herszenhorn (January 9, 2011). “In Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions”. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on January 10, 2011.Retrived on May 17, 2020.
 O’Neill, Ann (August 26, 2015). “Theater shooter Holmes gets 12 life sentences, plus 3,318 years”. CNN. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
 Emily Flitter and Dan Burns, “Connecticut Gunman Had Hundreds of Rounds; Obama to Console Newtown,” Reuters, December 16, 2012.
 White House, Now Is the Time: The President’s Plan to Protect our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence, January 16, 2013, http://www.wh.gov/now-is-the-tim
 Krouse, William J. “Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress.” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, R42987, January 8, 2015, p.4
 S. 649 — 113th Congress: Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 16, 2020 <https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s649>
 S. 150 — 113th Congress: Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 16, 2020 <https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s150>
 Krouse, William J. “Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress.” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, R42987, January 8, 2015, p.6
 Roll call list of the vote on S.649, https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=113&session=1&vote=00097, accessed May 22,2020.
 Buchanan, James; Tullock, Gordon The Calculus of Consent, Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy Vol.3; Liberty Fund, 1999, p. 284.
 H.R. 2910 — 113th Congress: Gun Violence Prevention and Reduction Act of 2013.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 16, 2020, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr2910.
 For further information, see Rep. Waxman Pres Release https://web.archive.org/web/20140207030028/https://waxman.house.gov/press-release/rep-waxman-and-house-democrats-introduce-gun-violence-prevention-and-reduction-act, accessed May 18, 2020.
 Krouse, William J. “Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress.” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, R42987, January 8, 2015, p.9
 “H.R. 602 — 113th Congress: Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 18, 2020 <https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr602>
 Krouse, William J. “Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress.” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, R42987, January 8, 2015, p.8
 Ibid, 7
 Topher McDougal et Al., Igarape Inst.&Univ. Of San Diego Trans-Border Inst.,
The Way of The Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across The U.S-Mexico Border, 5 (2013).
 S. 179 — 113th Congress: Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013.” www.GovTrack.us. 2013. May 19, 2020 https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s179.
 Krouse, William J. “Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress.” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, R42987, January 8, 2015, p.37
 Buchanan, James; Tullock, Gordon, The Calculus of Consent, Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy Vol.3; Liberty Fund, 1999, p. 283.