Gun control policy of the Clinton Administration

Gun control policy of the Clinton Administration

The Gun control policy of the Clinton Administration, was the White House's domestic policy on guns during Bill Clinton's term in office as President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Gun control was a major political issue in the first half of Clinton's first term and during that time he lobbied for, and signed, two major pieces of gun control legislation, the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban.


After receiving the nomination for president, Clinton campaigned against George H. W. Bush, in the fall of 1992. In previous elections, Republicans had garnered success by labeling their opponents as "soft on crime". Democrats had not used gun control in the past as an election issue. Clinton reversed the tide by using gun control as an issue and calling Bush soft on crime for not pushing for the Brady Law or an assault weapons ban. [ [ Battle Over the Brady Bill ] ] Clinton also strongly endorsed the death penalty. [Vizzard, William. "Shots in the Dark". Lanham MD: Roman & Littlefield, 2000. ISBN 084769559X] Bush called for " Going after the criminal not the gun owner". Clinton won the 1992 election with 43% of the vote.

Waco siege

On February 28 1993, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) attempted to execute a search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch at Mount Carmel, a property located nine miles (14 km) east-northeast of Waco, Texas. An exchange of gunfire resulted in the deaths of four agents and six Davidians. A subsequent 51-day siege by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended on April 19 when the complex was destroyed by fire. Seventy-six people, including 21 children and two pregnant women, along with Davidian leader David Koresh, died in the incident. This has come to be known as the Waco Siege or the Waco Massacre. This incident began as an attempt by the ATF and newly-appointed Attorney-GeneralJanet Reno to enforce gun control laws under the new Clinton Administration.

Brady Bill

Soon after taking office, it was clear that one of the most important items on the domestic agenda for the President was to pass the Brady Bill. The bill was named after Ronald Reagan's press secretary James Brady, who was wounded during the attempt on Reagan's life by John Hinckley. Brady's wife, Sarah, became a gun control advocate, and sought to put restrictions on the purchasing on handguns. The bill had been introduced several times in Congress during the 1980s and early 1990s. President Bush had vetoed an earlier version of the bill after intense pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA). [Clinton, Bill. "My Life". New York: Knopf Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0-375-41457-6]

The Brady Bill became personal for President Clinton. He became a political ally with Sarah Brady in her quest to get the bill passed. [Clinton, Bill. "My Life". New York: Knopf Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0-375-41457-6] Clinton also saw first hand what he believed was a need for the bill. When he was campaigning for Governor of Arkansas he met a hardware store owner who had sold a handgun to an unstable Vietnam vet, who had just been released from a mental hospital. The man went on a killing spree with the gun. Clinton cited this in his autobiography, as the best argument he encountered as to why the background checks in the Brady Law was needed. [Clinton, Bill. "My Life". New York: Knopf Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0-375-41457-6]

In February 1993 Clinton encouraged congress to pass the Brady bill, stating that he would sign it if they passed it. That same month Charles Schumer introduced the bill in the House and Howard Metzenbaum did so in the Senate. [DeConde, Alexander. "Gun Violence in America". York PA: Northeastern U. Press, 2001. ISBN 1555535925] Public opinion polls at the time showed a majority favored the bill. After several months of debate, the White House had put enough pressure on congress to get several Republican in both houses to support the bill. [DeConde, Alexander. "Gun Violence in America". York PA: Northeastern U. Press, 2001. ISBN 1555535925] Despite last ditch efforts by pro-gun Senators and the NRA, the bill managed to pass both houses and was signed into law on November 30, 1993. [Anderson, Jack. "Inside the NRA". Beverly Hills: Penguin, 1996. ISBN 0787106771] The law required a five day waiting period after purchasing a handgun, and the dealer had to report the sale to the local chief law enforcement officer to run a check on the buyer. Clinton called the bill a "good beginning" for more gun control legislation. Many credit Clinton's skills at building coalitions and using the public stage to keep pressure on getting the bill passed.

Assault weapons ban

One year after signing the Brady Law, White House lobbying also played a role in the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill, which included the assault weapons ban. The law banned certain semi-automatic firearms with two or more specific design features, and also prohibited the manufacture of ammunition magazines that held over ten rounds. [ [ ] ]

Although initially heralded as a victory for Clinton and Democrats in congress, it proved costly. [Vizzard, William. "Shots in the Dark". Lanham MD: Roman & Littlefield, 2000. ISBN 084769559X] The bill energized the NRA and Republican base, and contributed to the Republican takeover of both houses in the 1994 mid-term elections. Many Democrats who had supported Clinton's gun control measures were ousted, including Speaker Tom Foley. Clinton acknowledged that he had hurt Democrats with his victories. [Clinton, Bill. "My Life". New York: Knopf Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0-375-41457-6]

Clinton continued to push further regulations of firearms in his second term, especially after the Columbine High School massacre. Little success came out of his efforts though. Republicans controlled congress during this time, and a majority opposed any further gun control. [ [ At Clinton's urging, House votes to get back to work on gun control - March 15, 2000 ] ] The House voted to overturn the assault weapons ban in 1996. The Senate failed to take up the issue. [ [ Senator Dianne Feinstein - Assault Weapons Ban ] ]

Lasting effects

Certain aspects of the Brady Bill were ruled unconstitutional in court (Printz v. United States), and the government now uses an instant check system instead of a five day wait, but otherwise it survived and is still in effect today. Clinton claimed that the program had stopped thousand of criminals from purchasing guns. Critics pointed out that by 1999, of the more than 23,000 cases that had been referred for prosecution by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the BATF had only arrested 56 people. [DeConde, Alexander. "Gun Violence in America". York PA: Northeastern U. Press, 2001. ISBN 1555535925] The assault weapons ban had a sunset clause and expired on September 13, 2004.

Oklahoma City bombing

The Oklahoma City bombing was a terrorist attack on April 19 1995 aimed at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a U.S. government office complex in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The attack claimed 168 lives and left over 800 injured. Until the September 11, 2001 attacks, it was the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.Prior to 9-11, the deadliest act of terror against the United States was the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 189 Americans.] Within days after the bombing, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were both arrested for their roles in the bombing. Investigators determined that McVeigh and Nichols were sympathizers of an anti-government militia movement and that their motive was to avenge the government's handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents (the bombing occurred on the anniversary of the Waco incident).

Executive Orders

During his term, President Clinton also used the power of executive orders to implement gun control policies. On April 6, 1998 Clinton signed an order that permanently banned the importation of more than 50 semiautomatic assault weapons. [ [ Online NewsHour: Taking Aim - April 6, 1998 ] ] In 2001 Clinton also used executive orders to ban the importation of assault pistols and tighten licensing rules on gun dealers. [ [,9171,1101930823-162229,00.html Laying Down the Law - TIME ] ] Many accused Clinton of overuse of the executive power on gun control issues. In 1999 White House domestic policy chief Bruce D. Reed said, "The country is tired of waiting for Congress to respond to the tragedy in Littleton. The administration is going to do every thing in its power to make progress on guns." [ [ Clinton Takes Steps to become Dictator ] ]

Settlement with Smith & Wesson

In 2000 the Clinton administration reached an agreement with Smith & Wesson, to end federal and state lawsuits, in exchange for marketing and design changes by the company. Some of the items Smith & Wesson agreed to were; to sell guns with locks, to build the locks in the weapons within two years, implement smart gun technology, and take ballistic fingerprints of its guns. [ [ Smith & Wesson agrees to landmark gun safety settlement - March 17, 2000 ] ] Clinton called the deal a "major victory for America's families." [ [ Smith & Wesson agrees to landmark gun safety settlement - March 17, 2000 ] ] The NRA and other gun rights groups heavily criticized the settlement calling Smith & Wesson's actions "a sell-out" [ [ GOA Alert- March 21, 2000 ] ] , with the NRA calling the agreement ""tantamount to back door blackmail". [ [ Smith & Wesson agrees to landmark gun safety settlement - March 17, 2000 ] ] Smith & Wesson's ownership changed in 2001 and the agreement fell apart after George W. Bush came to office and supported lawsuit protection for gun manufactures. [ [ Andrew Cuomo for Attorney General ] ]


ee also

*Bill Clinton
*Gun politics in the United States
*Clinton Administration

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