Included as a fundamental right in the U.S. Constitution, firearms have played a pivotal but controversial role in America’s history and culture.
Federal gun regulations, though, were largely nonexistent until fairly recently. And it wasn’t until the late 1970s that gun control began to emerge as one of the most explosive, divisive issues in American politics.
Efforts to tighten firearms regulations often resumes in the wake of horrific mass shootings, but nearly every recent attempt has been shot down.
Case in point: On June 2016, a lone gunman, wielding a semi-automatic rifle and handgun terrorized a gay night club in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding scores more. The attack marks the deadliest mass shooting (committed by a single person)in U.S. history.
Eight days later, Senate Democrats tried to push through a set of legislation to expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, and to prevent anyone on the U.S. terror watch list from purchasing guns. The relatively modest measures were quickly scrapped by the Republican-controlled Senate. 2013 legislation proposed in the months after a gunman killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. suffered a similar fate.
As a result, U.S. gun laws remain exceptionally lenient in comparison to regulations in just about every other industrialized country in the world. Meanwhile, the gun death rate in the U.S. far outpaces that of any other wealthy Western nation.
As the Above the Noise video at top explains, the debate over access to guns is only likely to grow more thorny and complicated with the emergence and spread of new manufacturing technologies — like 3-D printing — that give more people the opportunity to create their own homemade weapons that are not yet regulated under existing federal gun laws.
For more on the prickly history of federal firearms laws, scroll through this interactive timeline.
(Click here for full-screen mode)