Included as a fundamental right in the U.S. Constitution, firearms have long played a pivotal role in America’s history and culture. Federal gun regulations, though, were largely nonexistent until well into the 20th Century, and today remain exceptionally lenient compared to gun laws in most other wealthy nations.
But it wasn’t until relatively recently — the last 1970s — that gun control emerged as one of the most explosive and divisive issues in American politics.
And while debate is often reignited in the wake of horrific mass shootings, recent efforts to tighten gun access laws have been uniformly unsuccessful.
Case in point: on June 12, a lone gunman, wielding a a semi-automatic rifle and handgun, killed 49 people and wounded scores of others at a gay night club in Orlando. It stands as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history (committed by a single person). Eight days later, Senate Democrats tried to push through a set of legislation to expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, and prevent anyone on the U.S. terror watch list from purchasing guns. The measures were quickly killed by the Republican-controlled Senate, suffering a similar fate as 2013 legislation that had been proposed in the months after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 young children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Scroll through this timeline to learn more about the prickly history of federal firearms regulation in America.
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