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Gun Control Act of 1968
  • Firearm Owners Protection Act

The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA or GCA68), Pub.L. 90–618, 82 United States Statutes at Large 1213-2, enacted October 22, 1968, is a federal law in the United States signed by President Lyndon Johnson that broadly regulates the firearms industry and firearms owners. It primarily focuses on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.

The GCA is codified as Chapter 44 of Title 18 of the United States Code, and is Title I of the U.S. federal firearms laws. The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) is Title II. Both GCA and NFA are enforced by the ATF.


The Gun Control Act of 1968 was part of Johnson's Great Society series of programs and was spurred in passage by the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. The deaths of the latter two men occurred after the Act's introduction as a bill, but before it had been passed by either the House or Senate. In early June 1968, a tie vote in the House Judiciary Committee halted the bill's passage.[1] On reconsideration nine days later, the bill was passed by the committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee similarly brought the bill to a temporary halt, but as in the House, it was passed on reconsideration.[2] The US Gun Control Act of 1968 directly evolved from Rep. Emanuel Celler's (Judiciary Committee Chairman and gun control advocate) Bill H.R. 17735.[3][4]

Prohibited persons

Under the GCA, selling of firearms to certain categories of individuals is prohibited. As quoted from 18 U.S.C. 922 (d):

It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person— (1) is under indictment for, or has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year; (2) is a fugitive from justice; (3) is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)); (4) has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution; (5) who, being an alien— (A) is illegally or unlawfully in the United States; or (B) except as provided in subsection (y)(2), has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (as that term is defined in section 101(a)(26) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101 (a)(26))); (6) who [2] has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions; (7) who, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his citizenship; (8) is subject to a court order that restrains such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner of such person or child of such intimate partner or person, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child, except that this paragraph shall only apply to a court order that— (A) was issued after a hearing of which such person received actual notice, and at which such person had the opportunity to participate; and (B) (i) includes a finding that such person represents a credible threat to the physical safety of such intimate partner or child; or (ii) by its terms explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against such intimate partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury; or (9) has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Exceptions as quoted from 18 U.S.C. 921 (a)(33)(B):

(ii) A person shall not be considered to have been convicted of such an offense for purposes of this chapter if the conviction has been expunged or set aside, or is an offense for which the person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored (if the law of the applicable jurisdiction provides for the loss of civil rights under such an offense) unless the pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms.

Many states automatically reinstate gun ownership rights upon completion of sentence. Some states reinstate rights depending on the crime convicted of, and others have a petition process. Those convicted of a federal offense must contact the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Department of Justice, to receive a presidential pardon. Under the Department's rules governing petitions for executive clemency, 28 C.F.R. §§ 1.1 et seq., an applicant must satisfy a minimum waiting period of five years before he becomes eligible to apply for a presidential pardon of his federal conviction. According to a 21 Sep 2011 "Open Letter to All Federal Firearms Licensees" from ATF, holders of state-issued medical marijuana cards are automatically "prohibited persons" under 18 U.S.C 922 (g)(3) and "shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition" by a medical marijuana card holder is a violation.[5]

Additionally, 18 U.S.C 922 (x) generally prohibits persons under 18 years of age from possessing handguns or handgun ammunition with certain exceptions for employment, target practice, education, and a handgun possessed while defending the home of the juvenile or a home in which they are an invited guest.[6]

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 created a national background check system to prevent firearms sales to such "prohibited persons."

Federal Firearms License (FFL) System

The Gun Control Act mandated the licensing of individuals and companies engaged in the business of selling firearms. This provision effectively prohibited the direct mail order of firearms (except antique firearms) by consumers and mandated that anyone who wants to buy a gun in an interstate transaction from a source other than a private individual must do so through a federally licensed firearms dealer. The Act also banned unlicensed individuals from acquiring handguns outside their state of residence. The interstate purchase of long guns (rifles and shotguns) was not impeded by the Act so long as the seller is federally licensed and such a sale is allowed by both the state of purchase and the state of residence.

Private sales between residents of two different states are also prohibited without going through a licensed dealer, except for the case of a buyer holding a Curio & Relic license purchasing a firearm that qualifies as a curio or relic. Private sales between unlicensed individuals who are residents of the same state are allowed under federal law so long as such transfers do not violate the other existing federal and state laws. While current law mandates that a background check be performed if the seller has a federal firearms license, private parties living in the same state are not required to perform such checks under federal law. State laws however can prohibit such sales.

A person who does not have a Federal Firearms License may not be in the business of buying or selling firearms. Individuals buying and selling firearms without a federal license must be doing so from their own personal collection.

Under the Gun Control Act, a federally licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or collector shall not sell or deliver any rifle or shotgun or ammunition for rifle or shotgun to any individual less than 18 years of age, nor any handgun or ammunition for a handgun to any individual less than 21 years of age. [7]

Gunsmith and Factory Repair Exception

While the Gun Control Act prohibits the direct mail-ordering of firearms, a person may ship a gun via contract carrier (such as United Parcel Service-UPS, United States Postal Service or FedEx) to a gunsmith (who has an FFL) or the gunmaker's factory for repairs or modification. After the repair work is done, the gunsmith or the factory can ship the weapon directly back to the customer.

Import Restrictions

The 1968 Gun Control Act added a "sporting purpose" test which barred imports of military surplus rifles (a goal of many domestic gun makers) and a "points system" for imported handguns which barred from importation handguns based on penalizing features (short barrels, small caliber, short overall length or height, non-adjustable sights, etc.) believed to define the Saturday night special class of handgun.

Marking Requirements

The law also required that all newly manufactured firearms produced by licensed manufacturers in the United States and imported into the United States bear a serial number. Firearms manufactured prior to the Gun Control Act and firearms manufactured by non-FFLs remain exempt from the serial number requirement. Defacement or removal of the serial number (if present) is a felony offense.


Various organizations have expressed opposition to some or all of the GCA's provisions. Organizations such as the National Rifle Association of America have been noted to oppose only some of the Act's restrictions, while supporting others such as those forbidding the selling of firearms to convicted criminals and the mentally ill. Still other organizations oppose the Act altogether, arguing that it is excessively restrictive on law-abiding gun owners, while failing to prevent crime.[8] The GCA created what is commonly known as the "sporting purposes" standard for all imported firearms, declaring that they must "be generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes." As interpreted by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "sporting purposes" includes only hunting and organized competitive target shooting, but does not include "plinking" or "practical shooting" (despite the latter being a form of organized competitive target shooting) nor does it allow for collection for historical or design interest.[6] Hence, foreign made assault rifles and machine guns such as the AK-47, the FN FAL or the Heckler & Koch MP5 could no longer be imported into the United States for civilian ownership (however, semi-automatic models of the same weapons were permitted until the definition of "sporting purpose" was further tightened in 1989). The fact that domestic production and sale of weapons identical to those prohibited from import remains legal, without any need to conform to the "sporting purposes" standard, has also led to criticism that the GCA is more a matter of economic protectionism for the benefit of U.S. firearms industry than a genuine effort to curtail gun violence.

Alleged Nazi connections

Gun rights activists often associate the 1968 GCA with Nazi gun control laws, with some saying that the bill was copied directly from German laws.[9][10] During the Congressional Debates for the bill, when discussing then proposed registration requirements, Representative John Dingell argued that German registration of firearms was later used to disarm Jews.[11] Senator Joseph Tydings replied "Are you inferring that our system here, gun registration or licensing would in any way be comparable to the Nazi regime in Germany"[12] Tydings later inserted into the hearing record various documents, "concerning the history of Nazism and gun confiscation." Among them was a letter to Senator Thomas J. Dodd the chairman of the subcommittee, from the Library of Congress which stated "we are enclosing herewith a translation of the Law on Weapons of March 18, 1938, [...] as well as the Xerox of the original German text which you supplied"[13]

The registration requirements of the bill were ultimately removed before passage.

See also

  • Firearm Owners Protection Act (amending the Gun Control Act of 1968)
  • Gun law in the United States
  • Gun politics
  • List of United States firearms topics
  • Antique guns
  • National Rifle Association of America
  • German Weapons Law
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)


  1. "Gun Control Bill Blocked In House; Panel Deadlocks on Johnson Plan to Curb Rifle Sales - New Vote Is Scheduled", The New York Times. June 12, 1968. Page 1. Retrieved March 16, 2011.
  2. "Senate Due To Act Today; House Unit Votes Gun Bill, But Senate Panel Delays It House Committee Vote", The New York Times. June 21, 1968. Page 1. Retrieved March 16, 2011.
  5. Arthur Herbert, "Open Letter to All Federal Firearms Licensees", U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 26 Sep 2011.
  6. 6.0 6.1 '18 USC 922 (Prohibited Acts)'. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "atfref" defined multiple times with different content
  7. ATF P 5300.4 - Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide 2005
  8. Knox, Neal (June 1966). "The Dodd Bill Both Fact ... and Fantasy". 

Further reading

External links

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