During the past 20 years, the main type of gun made in the United States has shifted from manual revolvers to semiautomatic pistols. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about one‐third of the 223 million firearms manufactured for domestic sale or imported into the United States from 1899 through 1993 were handguns (77 million), and two‐thirds were rifles (79 million) or shotguns (66 million).
During the late 1990s, many U.S. cities filed lawsuits against the gun industry. The suits charge that the gunmakers have failed to incorporate safety devices in their products or have allowed their handguns to be marketed in ways that make them easy for criminal and juveniles to buy. While the cities are seeking monetary damages in these civil lawsuits (to compensate them for excess police and hospital costs incurred by gun violence), their real purpose is to pressure gunmakers into supporting more regulation to limit the flow of handguns. The cities are using the lawsuits as a means to reduce violent crime. These lawsuits are based on new findings from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) that as many as half of the guns used in crimes are new guns that criminals stole.
Backed by the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers are trying to block the lawsuits by using their allies in state legislatures to pass laws prohibiting cities from suing. Gunmakers argue that the lawsuits are nothing more than gun control in disguise. Critics of the gun industry charge that a responsible industry would concentrate on designing products with effective safety locks and on requiring dealers to limit gun purchases to one a month for each customer instead of on lobbying state legislators to pass laws exempting the gun industry from lawsuits.
The federal government and most of the states have some gun‐control laws. Federal and state laws prohibit alcoholics, drug addicts, mentally unbalanced people, or people with criminal records from owning guns. Some cities require a person to buy a license to own a gun and register the serial number of the weapon with the police.
Because guns are carried across state lines, measures must be taken at the federal level to restrict the availability of firearms. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1994), named for James Brady, who was shot and wounded in an attempt on President Reagan's life in 1981, provides for a five‐day waiting period before the purchase of a handgun. It also establishes a national instant criminal background checking system to be contacted by firearms dealers before the transfer of any firearm. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994) bans the manufacture of 19 military assault weapons.