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Federal Gun Registry History

12/14/2023 3:53 PM | Anonymous

Federal Gun Registry History  by Tom Reynolds

It is often stated that the federal government is prohibited from maintaining a gun registry.  Here is a short history of the federal gun registry prohibitions to which you can refer, to get good information.

Congressional Research Service serves as nonpartisan shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress.  On March 4, 2022 it released a report (*) which is the basis for the following.

Four provisions of current federal law prohibit a national registry of most, but not all, modern firearms.

1934 National Firearms Act (NFA)

Under the Department of Justice (DOJ), the ATF is the principal agency that administers and enforces the NFA

Under the NFA, certain firearms deemed to be particularly dangerous are more highly regulated. (e.g., machine guns, short-barreled shotguns, and silencers/suppressors.)

ATF maintains a centralized registry of NFA-regulated firearms (e.g., machine guns, short-barreled shotguns, and silencers) that are held privately by unlicensed persons and publicly by nonfederal law enforcement agencies.

For 34 years, FY1979 through FY2012, Congress attached a proviso to the annual ATF appropriations that blocked any proposed rule, that would have required FFLs to submit quarterly reports on firearms sales and dispositions. 

For FY2012, the word of futurity (“hereafter”) was included in this, which indicates it intended the prohibition on these quarterly FFL reports to be permanent law (H.Rept. 112-284, p. 240). (**)

Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA)

Under the Department of Justice (DOJ), the ATF is the principal agency that administers and enforces GCA; however, the FBI administers the GCA background check provisions.

The GCA requires anyone who engages in the business of manufacturing, importing, or dealing in firearms to be licensed federally. These licensees are known collectively as Federal Firearms Licensees. (FFL)

All modern firearms are regulated under the GCA if they are based on post-1898 designs and are capable of accepting self-contained, commercially available ammunition.  In addition, certain devices (e.g., silencers / suppressors) also fall under the GCA definition of “firearm.”

For nine years, FY2004 through FY2012, Congress included a general provision in the annual DOJ appropriations bill that required the FBI to destroy background check records within 24 hours on persons who are found eligible to receive and possess firearms. This provision was crafted because a 90-day NICS audit log was maintained by the FBI during the Clinton Administration.

For FY2012, Congress inserted a word of futurity (“hereafter”) in this provision, which indicates it intended for the 24-hour destruction requirement to be permanent law. (***)

Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA), 1986 Under 18 U.S.C. §926,

The Attorney General is authorized to prescribe the rules and regulations necessary to carry out the GCA. Section 6 of FOPA amended §926 to prohibit a registry of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions.( ****)

Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, 1993

Congress amended the GCA and required FFLs to initiate a background check on any prospective unlicensed customer seeking to acquire a firearm from them through a sale, trade, or redemption of firearms exchanged for collateral (18 U.S.C. §922(t)). The FBI facilitates these background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Subsection 103(i) of the Brady Act prohibits the establishment of a registration system of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions with any records generated by NICS, except for records on persons found ineligible to receive or possess firearms.(*****)


(*) Link to actual report     3 (

(**) “Provided, That no funds appropriated herein or hereafter shall be available for salaries or administrative expenses in connection with consolidating or centralizing, within the Department of Justice, the records, or any portion thereof, of acquisition and disposition of firearms maintained by [F]ederal firearms licensees. (Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012, P.L. 112-55, November 18, 2011, 125 Stat. 552, 609.

(***)Hereafter, none of the funds appropriated pursuant to this Act or any other provision of law may be used for—(1) the implementation of any tax or fee in connection with the implementation of subsection 922(t) of title 18, United States Code; and (2) any system to implement subsection 922(t) of title 18, United States Code, that does not require and result in the destruction of any identifying information submitted by or on behalf of any person who has been determined not to be prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm no more than 24 hours after the system advises a Federal firearms licensee that possession or receipt of a firearm by the prospective transferee would not violate subsection (g) or (n) of section 922 of title 18, United States Code, or State law

(****) No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established. Nothing in this section expands or restricts the Secretary’s [Attorney General’s] authority to inquire into the disposition of any firearm in the course of a criminal investigation. (P.L. 99-308, May 19, 1986, 100 Stat. 449, 459.)

(*****) No department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States may—(1) require that any record or portion thereof generated by the system established under this section be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or political subdivision thereof; or (2) use the system established under this section to establish any system for the registration of firearms, firearm owners, or firearm transactions or dispositions, except with respect to persons, prohibited by section 922 (g) or (n) of title 18, United States Code or State law, from receiving a firearm.

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