The Gun Control Act of 1968 (PL 90-618) was passed in the wake of the fatal shootings of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy. It repealed the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 and amended the National Firearms Act of 1934 by adding bombs and other destructive devices to machine guns and sawed-off shotguns as items strictly controlled by the government. Its purpose was to assist federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the effort to reduce crime and violence.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 had two major sections. Title I (18 USC 921 et seq.) required anyone dealing in firearms or ammunition—whether locally or across state lines—to be federally licensed under tough new standards and to keep records of all commercial gun sales. Title I also prohibited the interstate mail-order sale of all firearms and ammunition, the interstate sale of handguns generally, and the interstate sale of long guns, except under certain conditions. It forbade sales to minors or those with criminal records, generally outlawed the importation of non-sporting firearms, and established special penalties for the use or carrying of a firearm while committing a crime of violence or drug trafficking. However, Title I did not forbid the importation of unassembled weapons parts, and some individuals and companies were suspected of importing separate firearms parts and then reassembling them into a complete weapon as a means of getting around the law.
Title II, the National Firearms Act (NFA) (26 USC 5801 et seq.), re-enacted the 1934 National Firearms Act and extended the Gun Control Act to cover private ownership of so-called "destructive" devices such as submachine guns, bombs, and grenades. Enforcement of the federal laws became the responsibility of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which in 1972 created the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The ATF has since come under the control of the U.S. Department of Justice and has been renamed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
Efforts to Amend the Gun Control Act of 1968
After the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, Congress found itself under siege from both pro- and antigun groups. Firearms owners and dealers complained about ATF enforcement efforts, which seemed to target law-abiding citizens while neglecting criminals with firearms and people selling firearms illegally. Others voiced concern that the act penalized sportsmen. Those urging tighter control on guns felt the act did not go far enough in keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals. Every Congress from 1968 to 1986 introduced dozens of pieces of legislation to strengthen, repeal, or diminish the requirements of the 1968 act. In 1986 the gun control advocates were successful.