Dec 15, 1791
The Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, is ratified.
May 2, 1792
The United States Congress passes the Calling Forth Act, clarifying the procedures and the circumstances under which the president can call state militia into service.
May 8, 1792
The United States Congress passes the Uniform Militia Act, requiring all free white men between the ages of 18 and 45 to enroll in their state militias.
Nov 1, 1871
The National Rifle Association is founded by William Conant Church and George Wood Wingate. Disappointed by the gun skills of the men they had commanded during the Civil War, the two former Union officers establish the NRA to promote better marksmanship. During its first decades, the NRA builds rifle ranges, sponsors shooting competitions, and organizes gun safety courses.
Apr 12, 1873
In Colfax, Louisiana, roughly 100 persons, most of them members of a black militia, are killed by a white gang which includes many members of the Ku Klux Klan. The trials for the gang members responsible for the "Colfax County Massacre" will culminate in U.S. v. Cruikshank.
Mar 27, 1876
The United States Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Cruikshank, rules that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms; it only protects the states' rights to maintain militias.
Jan 4, 1886
The United States Supreme Court rules in Presser v State of Illinois that the Second Amendment only restricts federal action; it is not a prohibition against state action and therefore Illinois can regulate private militia.
Jan 31, 1903
Congress passes the Militia Act or Dick Act, replacing the Militia Act of 1792. It increases federal funding to state militia and requires that state militia meet more rigorous training and equipment standards. This act is an important step toward the formation of the modern National Guard.
Jun 13, 1916
President Woodrow Wilson signs the National Defense Act into law. This act guarantees that the state militias will remain the nation's "primary reserve force," but officially re-designates these militias as the "National Guard," and clarifies the president's authority to call them into service during times of war or national emergency.
Jun 26, 1934
Reacting to the violence associated with organized crime, Congress passes the National Firearms Act, imposing a $200 per gun tax on the sale of sawed-off shotguns and machine guns.
Jun 30, 1938
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Federal Firearms Act into law, requiring interstate gun dealers to obtain dealer licenses and record the names and addresses of those purchasing guns. The law also prohibits the sale of guns to persons convicted of violent felonies.
May 13, 1939
In United States v. Miller, the United States Supreme Court affirms the constitutionality of the 1934 National Firearms Act, which had imposed a prohibitive tax on the sale of sawed-off shotguns and machine guns. Within a somewhat ambiguous ruling the Court holds that as sawed-off shotguns have no "reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia," they are unprotected by the Second Amendment. The Court suggests that only those guns usable in militia service, and held for the purpose of militia service, are protected by the Second Amendment.
Oct 22, 1968
After several years of pressing Congress for a gun law, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Federal Gun Control Act in law. The act prohibits interstate commerce in guns and ammunition, forbids the sale of guns to felons, minors, drug addicts, and the mentally ill, and makes it illegal to import surplus military weapons unless classified as sporting guns or souvenirs.
Jul 1, 1972
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Internal Revenue Service is reorganized and renamed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The expanded bureau is charged with enforcing the 1968 Gun Control Act.
May 21, 1977
In the so-called "Cincinnati Revolt," Harlon Carter and his followers gain control of the National Rifle Association at its annual meeting. Carter pledges to reverse the more flexible positions toward gun regulation maintained by recent leadership and pursue a more uncompromising defense of an unqualified individualist interpretation of the Second Amendment.
May 19, 1986
Despite National Rifle Association opposition, President Ronald Reagan signs the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act, making it illegal to make or import armor piercing, or "cop-killing," bullets. On the same day, with National Rifle Association support, Reagan signs the Firearms Owners' Protection Act into law, easing restrictions on gun dealers and gun sales. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau inspections of gun dealers are limited to once a year, the restrictions on the interstate sale of rifles and shotguns are lifted, ammunition sales through the mail are legalized, and the record-keeping requirements for ammunition sales are reduced. The law also increases the penalties for crimes committed with certain types of guns, and adds drug offenses to the list of crimes that qualify for the 1968 Gun Control Act's minimum sentencing guidelines.
Nov 10, 1988
President Ronald Reagan signs into law the Undetectable Firearms Act, prohibiting the manufacture, possession, and sale of firearms not detectable by airport security machines.
Jul 7, 1989
President George H.W. Bush signs a ban on the importation of semi-automatic assault weapons six months after a gunman armed with a Chinese-made assault weapon kills six children at a Stockton, California school.
Nov 30, 1993
Congress passes the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, mandating five-day waiting periods and background checks for all handgun purchases. The waiting period provision will expire in 1998, but it will be replaced by a national computerized background checking system.
Sep 13, 1994
Congress passes the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, making illegal nineteen types of assault weapons.
Jun 8, 1998
Charlton Heston is elected president of the National Rifle Association. Heston will use the largely ceremonial office to repair the NRA's public image and boost membership.
Jun 28, 2008
The United States Supreme Court rules in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment does protect an individual right to own and use guns for lawful purposes, including self-defense. As part of this decision the Court strikes down parts of a Washington, D.C. gun law that bans handguns and requires that all guns kept in homes be unloaded and disassembled or trigger-locked. The Court states that certain forms of federal regulation are permissible, such as concealed weapons laws and bans on certain types of guns. But blanket prohibitions on entire categories of guns, such as handguns, that could be used for lawful purposes are not constitutional.