A special administration task force led by Vice-President Biden was appointed by President Obama shortly after the Newtown, Connecticut killings. The task force met with a broad range of stakeholder organizations including the ABA over a three week period culminating on January 15, 2013 with the issuance of its far-reaching report, “Now Is The Time: The President’s Plan to Protect Our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence.” Four top priority legislative reforms were recommended in the President’s report, to: (1) end the gun show and private sale exemptions from background checks, and strengthen implementation of current background check reporting; (2) enact a new federal crime for straw purchases of firearms; (3) enact a new federal ban on military assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips; and (4) pass legislation to support state and local steps to improve security at schools.
Congressional action has been focused in the Senate thus far in the 113th Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on gun violence prevention legislation on an accelerated schedule beginning with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first hearing of the 113th Congress on January 30, 2013, titled “What Should America Do About Gun Violence?” The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing on February 12, 2023, titled “Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence: Protecting Our Communities While Respecting the Second Amendment.” The full Senate Judiciary Committee held a final hearing on February 27, 2013 on the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.
Key bills regarding each of the President’s priorities were introduced in the Senate and moved forward to Senate Judiciary Committee approval. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced S. 54, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013, bipartisan legislation that would prohibit knowing purchases of firearms in order to deliver them to persons who disqualified from purchasing or possessing them under federal law, on January 22, 2012. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced a similar measure, S. 179, the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013, on January 30, 2013. The two bills outlawing straw purchases were combined in a substitute bill considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a markup session on March 7, 2013. The substitute amendment adopted without objection would create an offense that would carry a criminal penalty of up to 15 years for most cases, with a maximum 25-year sentence if the firearm is believed to be purchased for use in a violent crime. Also, adopted without objection, was an amendment offered by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to address safeguards when law enforcement employs straw purchases in sting operations. The amended bill was approved 11-7.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced S. 374, the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013, legislation to require background checks on all gun sales and expand the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, on February 25, 2013. On a party-line vote, the Committee approved an amended version of S. 374 on March 12, 2013.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced S. 146, the School and Campus Safety Enhancements Act of 2013, legislation to authorize $40 million for school security grants and the establishment of hotlines or tiplines for reporting potentially dangerous students and situations. The Judiciary Committee approved a substitute version of S. 146 incorporating accountability and anti-fraud provisions advocated by Senator Grassley on a 14-4 vote on March 12, 2013.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced S. 150, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, legislation to prospectively limit the availability of military assault weapons and ammunition feeding devices that can accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition, on January 29, 2013. The bill goes beyond the 1994 law to require background checks on the sale and transfer of existing semi-automatic guns and to ban the future sale of existing magazines containing more than 10 rounds. The Senate Judiciary approved S. 150 on March 14, 2013 on a party-line vote 10-8 vote after defeating amendment offered by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to exempt from the ban individuals living along the southern U.S. border, those living in rural areas, and domestic violence victims who have obtained a protective order.
Following action by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) combined three of the four key bills into a package bill, S. 649, the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013, which he introduced on March 21, 2013. S. 649, however, does not include provisions of S. 150, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.
The Senate voted April 17-18 on nine amendments to S. 649. By unanimous consent, 60 votes were required for adoption. Only two amendments were adopted. The Senate votes were as follows:
A substitute background check bill offered by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) was defeated on a 54-46 vote;
The GOP substitute bill offered by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to address mental health records in the NICS system and to reauthorize school safety, mental health and crime prevention programs was defeated on a 52-48 vote.
An amendment offered by Senators Leahy and Collins (R-ME) to make it a federal crime to knowingly purchase a gun on behalf of ineligible persons – a “straw purchase” – was defeated on a 58-42 vote.
An amendment to require reciprocity between states in recognizing concealed-carry gun permits was defeated on a 57-43 vote.
The assault weapons ban bill, S. 150, offered by Senator Diane Feinstein was defeated on a 40-60 vote.
An amendment to exempt veterans from certain mental health-based prohibitions on gun purchases was defeated on a 56-44 vote.
An amendment to prohibit future production and import of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds was defeated on a 46-54 vote.
An amendment to withhold five percent of Community Oriented Policing Services funding from states and local governments that release information on gun owners was adopted on a 67-30 vote.
An amendment to expand mental health and substance abuse programs was approved on a 95-2 vote.
Following the votes on these nine amendments, the Senate moved on to other business without a final vote on S. 649, which may be brought up again for further Senate consideration if political circumstances change.
A very large number of comparable and unrelated bills dealing with gun policy have been introduced in the past few months in the House of Representatives. There is no indication at present that the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings or that any action on these bills will proceed in the near future in the House. The main focus for potential action in the House is H.R. 1565, the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2013, introduced by Representatives Peter King (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA). H.R. 1565 is similar to the Manchin-Toomey compromise provision considered in the Senate in addressing strengthening of background check requirements for private commercial sales of guns and providing incentives to states to improve background records provided to the NICs system. H.R. 1565 currently has 186 cosponsors. Proponents are pushing toward a goal of 218 cosponsors in order to bypass the Committee process and move it directly to full House floor consideration via a discharge petition.
Congress acted at the end of 2013 on legislation to reauthorize the 1988-enacted Undetectable Firearms Act. The Act bans the manufacture, sale, transfer or possession of firearms that do not contain any metal parts sufficient to be detectable by standard metal detector technology used at airport and public buildings. On December 3, 2013, the House of Representatives by voice vote passed H.R. 3626, a bill introduced on December 2, 2013 by Representative Howard Coble (R-NC) to extend the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 for 10 years. The Senate passed H.R. 3626 by unanimous consent without amendment on December 9, 2013. President signed the bill into law on December 9, 2013 as Public Law No: 113-57.