Tom Gabor: Democrats and Republicans – Where Have They Stood on Gun Rights Versus Public Safety

I usually deliver a nonpartisan message but we are approaching the midterm elections and voters should be aware that the two parties have a very different record over the last 50 years.  When we look at major pieces of legislation passed at the federal level, the Democrats have supported laws designed to regulate guns to improve public safety and the Republicans have passed laws that have promoted the rights of gun owners, reduced oversight of the gun industry, impeded research on gun violence, and resisted gun regulation.  Let’s look at their records.


The Democrats:

  • In 1968, after the assassinations of Senator Robert Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, signed into law The Gun Control Act of 1968. This comprehensive Act established categories of individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms (many felons, mentally ill individuals, those dishonorably discharged from the military, fugitives, etc.).  The Act also mandated the licensing of those engaged in the business of selling firearms.


  • In 1993, President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act. This law, as an interim measure, imposed a five-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm from a licensed dealer.  The Brady Law also mandated the instant background checks introduced in 1998 to determine whether buyers from a licensed dealer fall in a prohibited category.


  • In 1994, President Clinton signed the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which prohibited the manufacture of certain semi-automatic weapons defined as assault weapons, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines.


  • In 2013, following the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barak Obama, a Democrat, in what he called “a pretty shameful day for Washington”, saw his proposals to expand criminal background checks to all gun sales, to ban certain assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines voted down by a Republican-controlled Senate.


One exception was Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, who, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was formed in 1972, inserted a provision exempting guns and ammunition from the agency’s oversight.  The CPSC regulates the safety of about 15,000 consumer items, from toys and hair dryers to mattresses and lawn mowers.  Rep. Dingell served on the board of the National Rifle Association.


The Republicans:


  • In 1986, President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, signed the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. This Act strengthened the rights of gun owners and dealers by prohibiting the development of a gun registry, ending recordkeeping for ammunition, and limiting dealer inspections to one per year.


  • In 1996, Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican, inserted an amendment into the Federal Government Omnibus Spending Bill which effectively prohibited the Centers for Disease Control from funding research on gun violence.  This amendment was a major priority for the NRA.


  • In 2004, the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 expired under the administration of President George W. Bush, a Republican.


  • In 2005, President Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Several cities had filed lawsuits against gun makers and dealers, claiming that their actions had compromised public health and created huge financial obligations for the municipalities.  The Act shields the industry from lawsuits relating to the use of firearms and ammunition, when “the product functioned as designed and intended.”  The PLCAA provides broad protection to companies in the gun industry that make unsafe products and engage in distribution practices that result in easy access by criminals. No other industry benefits from such protection.

Above, we see the factual record over the last half century.  On the major initiatives at least, there is a clear pattern.  Democrats support reasonable gun regulation, such as expanding background checks to all sales and banning assault-style weapons.  Republicans are more concerned about the rights of gun owners, protecting the gun industry from liability, and obscuring the role of guns in deaths and injuries by suppressing research on gun violence.


Tom Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.    

8 thoughts on “Tom Gabor: Democrats and Republicans – Where Have They Stood on Gun Rights Versus Public Safety

  1. From the looks of it you are trying to get me to vote Republican. Thankfully, I don’t need to. Cooke gives the Dem candidate for my congressional district a 2% chance.

  2. There is a serious philosophical divide between me and those who want to ban some categories of rifles and handguns. I’m of the opinion we can get most of what we want in violence reduction with a graduated permitting system. The complaint often is that its as easy to buy an AR or a Glock 17 as it is to buy a traditional hunting rifle even though hunting rifles are rarely used in crime while ARs and various concealable or high capacity pistols are used in crime. So why not two levels of permitting: for stuff like traditional rifles, shotguns, and some handguns, pass a 4473. For other weapons that pose more of a public safety risk, some process between a 4473 and a full-on NFA item?

    I never hear Democrats or Republicans discussing such a scenerio. Its either Dems wanting to ban stuff or GOPs wanting nothing at all.

    • Khal, I’m open to this but there are a couple of major problems. One, retroactively subjecting an individual in possession of affected weapons to an NFA-style permitting system–I oppose grandfathering them–will take a very long time. Two, fingerprinting owners and registering these weapons as required by the NFA will not deter the suicidal individuals who are engaging in daily mass shootings in this country. This is the argument for a ban, as challenging as such a ban is to enforce.

  3. Whenever I hear the word … ban… I think, rightfully, of pre dawn, no knock raids, and dead on both sides. And a few minutes later, the cctv of it all o1n youtube.
    Banning America’s favorite gun would be very different than a booze or drug ban. … How well have they worked… Booze and drug dealers are, after all, competitors who welcome … or facilitate, police suppression of the others.
    Guns owners subject to police actions would be all on the same side. And wide awake .. sober.

  4. Very few gun rights people have a problem with a scheme of graduated NFA hurdles for obtaining their gear. I think it, along with smart cc laws, comport we’ll with The 2A. The elephant in the room problem is that no one, as far as I can tell, in gun control nation ever brings it up as a possibility. Excuse my paranoia, but I sense that that is because such an approach does not tie each weapon to an address where it .can be seized when the left gets in power , they are fundamentaly not interested.

  5. Tom, I am sure that from a pure public safety standpoint of minimizing risks of mass shootings, a ban makes the most sense to the public health community. But this is politics, too. Bans are going to be met with not only the most political resistance but the most Molon Labe resistance as well–my understanding is that the AR ban in places like NYS is routinely ignored. And, we might possibly see a Conservative court rejecting a ban if Kavanaugh’s dissent in Heller II becomes case law. So why go there if one can get an 80% solution? Either will take time to change the current paradigm.

    As far as suicides, I would want to see the number of suicides that result in mass shootings vs. those which only result in a single death, which of course can be done with a single shot break open shotgun.

    As hman says above, one is likely to get more buy-in with graduated hurdles than with “Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them in”. Why do we want to go the hard way? Frankly, the public should be more worried about my down the street neighbor cell phoning his way around town in an SUV than they are a guy with multiple high level security clearances (and who had to see a shrink once a year to qualify for my job), owning a friggin’ AR. We see that in states with pistol permit laws, permittees have low levels of “social failure” compared to “anything goes” RTC states. That is, if the admittedly spotty research is valid. Same should be true for AR permitting. A certain amount of maturity and responsibility should be had by anyone owning firearms but especially those whose design encourages the trigger to be pulled.

    • Asterisk on above. Recent data suggests over 3000 traffic deaths per year due to distracted driving. Far more than total number of identified rifle deaths from all rifles.

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