Published On: Dec 17 2012 02:34:07 PM ESTUpdated On: Mar 10 2012 03:57:11 PM EST
1791: Congress adopts 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including the 10 that are known as the Bill of Rights. Among those rights is the Second Amendment, or the right to keep and bear arms. It reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The amendment is thought to have been influenced by the English Bill of Rights, passed in 1689. Its intended meaning has long been disputed, with opponents arguing that "well-regulated militia" allows firearms regulation, with supporters placing emphasis on the second clause.
One of the earliest arguments over gun rights in America was whether slaves should be allowed to carry them. In its historic 1856 Dred Scott decision, the U.S. Supreme Court stated it would give slaves who are recognized as U.S. citizens the "full liberty" to keep and carry guns wherever they went.
The first sweeping gun control legislation was passed following the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, as well as Martin Luther King Jr., in the 1960s. Signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, the Gun Control Act broadly regulated the firearms industry by banning interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.
In the 1990s, gun politics took a turn to the right in response to two deadly standoffs involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- the 1993 Waco siege involving the Branch Davidian compound in Texas and the Ruby Ridge siege in northern Idaho in 1992.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act into law. The act, which instituted federal background checks on firearm purchasers in the United States, was named after James Brady (left), who was shot by John Hinckley Jr. during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981.
The ban on assault weapons expired in 2004 as part of the law's sunset provision. There have been multiple attempts to renew the ban, but no bill has reached the floor for a vote.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court made another landmark decision in the gun control debate, ruling that the Second Amendment limits state and local governments to the same extent that it limits the federal government.
In the past, polls have found a majority of Americans do not support stricter gun laws. But that support has reached a five-year high in the aftermath of the elementary school shooting in Connecticut that left 27 dead.