Senators confront history and politics on guns


For example, it took the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy to finally spur action on the Gun Control Act of 1968.

25 years later in 1993, Senators brokered a deal on what we know as the Brady Law. It started as a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases and ultimately created the current federal background check system for gun purchasers.

At about the same time, Congress was trying to rein in assault weapons. That effort grew out of a 1989 attack on an elementary school in Stockton, California — where a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle killed five kids and wounded 32 others.

It led to the most surprising vote in my time covering Congress — on May 23, 1990 — when the Senate voted 52-48 to restrict the import and manufacture of assault weapons in a larger anti-crime bill. It was a very rare defeat for the NRA.

Three years later, Congress voted to approve a 10-year ban on certain assault weapons. That expired in 2004.

After Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, many blamed the voter backlash in part on that assault weapons vote – one reason why no major gun control legislation has been approved in the last 28 years.

Since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, lawmakers have tried repeatedly to expand background checks on gun sales – in order to close loopholes in the Brady Law instant check system.

But those initiatives have routinely hit a wall in the U.S. Senate, mainly opposed by Republicans.

Can Senators strike a deal this time on gun violence? History might not be on their side.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at

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