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These Are the Ideas in Play in (Another) U.S. Gun Debate

The way U.S. elected leaders respond to mass shootings reflects the grisly details of the latest tragedy. After 17 were killed at a school in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, arming teachers was among the solutions offered. That went nowhere. The 2017 slaughter of concertgoers in Las Vegas fueled calls to outlaw bump stocks like the one used by the gunman to fire more rapidly. A U.S. ban took effect in March. After two separate mass shootings within 13 hours in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, proposals to crack down on gun purchases by mentally unstable people drew renewed attention. Here’s where that idea, and others, stand.

Require ‘Red Flag’ Laws

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have adopted measures -- known as red flag or extreme risk protection order laws -- to remove guns from potentially dangerous people. These laws empower family members or law enforcement officers to ask a court to temporarily remove the right to own firearms from people exhibiting violent behavior. Senators Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, are pushing legislation that would create a federal grant program to encourage more states to adopt such laws. President Donald Trump has said he supports the idea. But the Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said Congress should force, rather than merely encourage, states to adopt such laws. He also wants any gun-related legislation moving through the Senate to include a House-passed measure requiring background checks on all gun purchasers.

Expand Background Checks

Licensed firearm dealers are required to run background checks, but private sellers -- those who sell firearms only occasionally, for example -- don’t need licenses. This discrepancy is often shorthanded as the “gun-show loophole.” The Democratic-controlled House in February voted toexpand criminal background checks to would-be gun buyers on the internet and at gun shows. Another approved bill would prevent a gun sale from going forward if a background check isn’t finished within three days. Leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate have rejected similar measures, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said they could be part of future discussions. Trump said he’s willing to discuss background checks and tweeted his support for "meaningful" ones, but more recently has said the U.S. has “very strong background checks right now.” (Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, founded and helps fund Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for universal background checks and other gun violence prevention measures.)

Raise the Age for Buying Weapons

Current federal law requires handgun buyers to be 21 but allows people as young as 18 to buy rifles, even of the semiautomatic variety. That’s how the 19-year-old Parkland school shooter was able to legally acquire an AR-15. (The alleged El Paso shooter turned 21 one week before the assault. The Dayton gunman, who was shot dead by police, was 24.) After the Parkland shootings, Trump voiced support for increasing the age limit, putting him at odds with the National Rifle Association. No action was taken on the federal level, but some states including California and Washington raised the minimum age to 21. Some individual retailers chose to do so as well. The latest shooting sprees prompted a Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, to change his stance and say he now supports raising the federal minimum gun-buying age to 21.

Ban Certain Firearms

A 1986 law signed by President Ronald Reagan, who had been shot five years earlier, banned most civilians from purchasing newly manufactured automatic weapons. For those made before 1986 and owned by civilians, the law imposed strict rules on transferring them to a new owner. In 1994, when Congress created the background-check system, it also banned new semiautomatic weapons that resemble assault-style weapons. That ban, which gun-control advocates criticized for its loopholes, expired in 2004 without action by Congress to renew it. While many Democrats say they favor reinstating the ban, Congress hasn’t moved in that direction. Trump said on Aug. 7 that he sees “no political appetite” to renew the ban.

Prohibit Large-Capacity Magazines

The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban also prohibited large-capacity magazines, devices that store and feed ammunition, for 10 years. “Large-capacity” was defined as anything holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Since the ban expired in 2004, gun owners have been able to purchase magazines capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition. The assailant who killed nine people in Dayton had attached a 100-round drum magazine to his AR-15-style pistol, according to the city’s police chief. Democratic lawmakers led several unsuccessful attempts to reinstate the ban, including after the 2017 Las Vegas massacre. House Democrats are trying again to restrict the sale and importation of large-capacity magazines. Nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning large-capacity magazines.

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