The last time the US federal government limited gun ownership was 25 years ago

Senator Diane Feinstein displays an assault rifle at a press conference in 1994.
Senator Diane Feinstein displays an assault rifle at a press conference in 1994.
Image: Reuters
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In February, the US House of Representatives passed sweeping gun-control legislation. But it was hardly news.

While some House Republicans joined Democrats in favor of the measures, the vote was—to no one’s surprise—mostly split along party lines. The Senate, where Republicans maintain a majority, never bothered to advance or even debate the potential new regulations.

And now they are all on vacation.

The last time the federal government managed to pass laws that limit the spread and use of guns in the United States was 25 years ago. It was 1994. Bill Clinton was president and the original Lion King had just been released in theaters.

That law was known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, and it was temporary. Written into the legislation was an expiration date of 10 years. But for that decade, the law essentially banned the manufacture, sale, and possession of some military-style assault weapons, including the AR-15. A recent study found that the ban reduced the number of mass shootings during the decade it existed.

After the ban expired in 2004, there were several attempts to bring it back. US president Barack Obama tried to renew the ban in 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, where a gunman used an AR-15 to massacre 26 people, including 20 kids between the ages of 6 and 7. But the Senate again stood in the way, voting not to renew.

While individual states can (and have) passed their own gun-control laws, the lack of consistent countrywide regulations has been a matter of intense debate in recent years, especially as mass shootings become more and more frequent.

After two mass shootings over the weekend in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, those debates are likely to escalate.