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Do mass shootings lead to new gun-control laws?
Storified by Digital First Media · Tue, Dec 18 2012 11:10:51
The shootings at a Connecticut elementary school have reopened a long-dormant debate over gun control. Some advocates of stronger laws say the massacre represents a turning point, while opponents are
mostly keeping quiet
History shows that mass shootings and assassinations have played a key role in the passage of stronger gun-control laws. But not every shooting leads to new laws. Typically, it has taken more than one high-profile event and several years of debate for a gun-control proposal to become a law.
Below, a look at some past shootings that led to new laws, and some that didn’t.
1929: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Police and people gather in front of the S.M.C. Cartage Co. garage on North Clark in Chicago on Feb. 14, 1929, following the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. (AP Photo/Chicago History Museum)
During the Prohibition era, illegal sales of alcohol led to a rise in criminal gangs who used submachine guns. In 1929, members of Al Capone’s gang in Chicago used Tommy guns to kill seven members of a rival gang. The so-called St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
prompted several gun control proposals
, but no new laws were passed in the immediate aftermath of the shootings.
1933: Roosevelt assassination attempt
In 1933, an unemployed bricklayer named Giuseppe Zangara shot and killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak in what is believed to have been an
attempt to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt
. The shooting helped build support for one of the bills first proposed after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The National Firearms Act of 1934 set up the first federal registration system for gun dealers and imposed heavy taxes on certain types of guns.
1963: Assassination of John F. Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy speaks at dedication ceremonies of the Aerospace Medical Center at Brooks Air Force Base, San Antonio, Tex., Nov. 21, 1963. (AP Photo)
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 sparked debate over gun laws. Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had bought a rifle through the mail and had it delivered to a post office box under a false name. Debate began over mail-order gun sales, but no new laws were passed immediately after the assassination.
1966: Texas tower sniper
Smoke rises from a sniper’s gun as he fires from the tower of the University of Texas administration building in Austin at people below in 1966. (AP Photo/File)
In 1966, former Marine Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then killed 13 people and wounded 32 others in a shooting rampage from the tower at the University of Texas in Austin. As with the Kennedy assassination, the shootings led to renewed debate over gun control, but no immediate changes in the law.
1968: Assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King
This view shows the window in Memphis, Tenn., from which a man shot Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. (AP Photo)
The 1968 assassinations of Sen. Robert Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. came while Congress was debating a gun control measure that was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” legislation, helping spur passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which expanded the categories of people who could not buy guns,
barred mail-order sales of rifles and shotguns
and banned imported handguns.
1981: Reagan assassination attempt
Hoping to impress actress Jodie Foster, a mentally ill man named John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. One of his shots left White House Press Secretary James Brady paralyzed. Brady and his wife, Sarah, later formed a gun control group now known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. But it took until 1993 for supporters to
pass the Brady Bill
, creating the first national system of background checks for gun buyers
1991: Luby’s massacre
Unidentified mourners comfort each other after a funeral service for Michael Griffith on Oct. 20, 1991. Griffith was among the people who were killed in the massacre at the Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In 1991, an unemployed man named George Hennard drove his pickup through the front window of a Texas cafeteria, then shot and killed 23 people before committing suicide. It was the
deadliest shooting in U.S. history
until the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 (and now third, after Newtown). Texas
expanded access to concealed handgun permits
in response to the massacre, but no federal laws were changed.
1993: Long Island Rail Road massacre
Long Island Rail Road shooter Colin Ferguson is led into a Nassau County court room for a preliminary hearing Dec. 10, 1993, in Mineola, N.Y. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
In 1993, a mentally ill man named Colin Ferguson shot and killed six people at a Long Island Rail Road station in Garden City, N.Y. Along with a number of other mass shootings in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the massacre
helped build support
for a 1994 federal ban on the manufacture of certain assault weapons for civilian use. The ban expired in 2004, however, and
a dozen attempts to renew it have failed
1999: Columbine High School shootings
Unidentified family members of the 13 people killed at Columbine High School in April 1999 view the walls of the memorial after the dedication ceremony at the Columbine Memorial in 2007. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In 1999, two high school students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, shot and killed 12 students and a teacher in a massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. The two had obtained three of the weapons from a friend who bought them at a gun show without undergoing a background check. A month later, the Senate approved closing the so-called “gun show loophole”
in a 50-50 vote
, with Vice President Al Gore breaking the tie. The proposal failed to pass the Republican-led House, however, and buyers at gun shows
still do not need to pass background checks
2007: Virginia Tech shootings
A video aired by NBC News shows Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho. (AP Photo/NBC)
In 2007, mentally ill Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people on campus, the deadliest massacre in U.S. history. In response, Congress passed the
first new federal gun control measure in a decade
, a bill supported by the NRA which strengthened the federal background check system for gun buyers and required states do a better job of adding records, such as those on domestic violence.
2011: Tucson shootings
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, left, leads the Pledge of Allegiance at a memorial vigil remembering the victims and survivors of the Tucson shootings. (AP Photo/Matt York)
In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner killed six people and wounded 13 others, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in a shooting spree outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. Although gun control supporters hoped the involvement of a member of Congress would spur action, no federal laws were changed in response to the shooting.
2012: Aurora, Colo., shootings
James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Holmes was being held on suspicion of first-degree murder. (Denver Post/RJ Sangosti)
Twelve people are killed when a gunman entered an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, released a canister of gas and then opened fire during opening night of the Batman movie
The Dark Knight Rises. James Holmes, a 24-year-old former graduate student at the University of Colorado, has been charged in the deaths. No federal laws were changed as a result of the shootings.