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The Gun Control Act of 1968, Pub. L. No. 90-618, 82 Stat. 1213 (also known as GCA or GCA68, and codified as Chapter 44 of Title 18, United States Code) is a federal law in the United Statesmarker that broadly regulates the firearms industry and firearms owners. It primarily focuses on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.

The GCA is Title I of the U.S. federal firearms laws. The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) is Title II. Both GCA and NFA are enforced by the ATF.

Prohibited persons

Under the GCA, firearms possession by certain categories of individuals is prohibited.

  1. Anyone who has been convicted in a federal court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, excluding crimes of imprisonment that are related to the regulation of business practices.
  2. Anyone who has been convicted in a state court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding two years, excluding crimes of imprisonment that are related to the regulation of business practices.
  3. Anyone who is a fugitive from justice.
  4. Anyone who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.
  5. Anyone who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution.
  6. Any alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or an alien admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa. Aliens who have a tourist visa or student visa may possess guns if they have a current, valid hunting license.
  7. Anyone who has been discharged under dishonorable conditions from the United States armed forces
  8. Anyone who, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his or her citizenship.
  9. Anyone that is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner.
  10. Anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (added in 1996 by the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, or "Lautenberg Amendment.")

Additionally, 18 USC 922(x) generally prohibits persons under 18 from possessing handguns or handgun ammunition with certain exceptions for employment, target practice, education, and a handgun possessed while defending the home of the juvenile or a home in which they are an invited guest.

A person who is under indictment or information for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year cannot lawfully receive a firearm. Such person may continue to lawfully possess firearms obtained prior to the indictment or information.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 created a national background check system to prevent firearms sales to such "prohibited persons."

FFL System

The Gun Control Act mandated the licensing of individuals and companies engaged in the business of selling firearms. This provision effectively prohibited the direct mail order of firearms (except antique firearms) by consumers and mandated that anyone who wants to buy a gun from a source other than a private individual must do so through a federally licensed firearms dealer. The Act also banned unlicensed individuals from acquiring handguns outside their state of residence. The interstate purchase of long guns (rifles and shotguns) was not impeded by the act so long as the seller is federally licensed and such a sale is allowed by both the state of purchase and the state of residence.

Private sales between residents of two different states are also prohibited without going through a licensed dealer, except for the case of a buyer holding a Curio & Relic license purchasing a firearm that qualifies as a curio or relic.

Private sales between unlicensed individuals who are residents of the same state are allowed under federal law so long as such transfers do not violate the other existing federal and state laws. While current law mandates that a background check be performed if the seller has a federal firearms license, private parties living in the same state are not required to perform such checks under federal law. State laws however can prohibit such sales.

A person who does not have a Federal Firearms License may not be in the business of buying or selling firearms. Individuals buying and selling firearms without a federal license must be doing so from their own personal collection.

The Gun Control Act forbids sales of all firearms by federally licensed dealers to persons under the age of 18, and sales of handguns by federally licensed dealers to persons under the age of 21.

Gunsmith and Factory Repair Exception

While the Gun Control Act prohibits the direct mail-ordering of firearms, a person may ship a gun via contract carrier (UPSmarker or FedEx usually) to a gunsmith (who always has an FFL) or the gunmaker's factory for repairs or modification. After the repair work is done, the gunsmith or the factory can ship the weapon directly back to the customer.

Import Restrictions

The 1968 Gun Control Act added a "sporting purpose" test which barred imports of military surplus rifles (a goal of many domestic gun makers) and a "points system" for imported handguns which barred from importation handguns based on penalizing features (short barrels, small caliber, short overall length or height, non-adjustable sights, etc.) believed to define the Saturday night special class of handgun.

Marking Requirements

The law also required that all newly-manufactured firearms produced by licensed manufacturers in the United States and imported into the United States bear a serial number. Firearms manufactured prior to the Gun Control Act remain exempt from the serial number requirement. Defacement or removal of the serial number (if present) is a felony offense.


Various organizations have expressed opposition to some or all of the GCA's provisions. Organizations such as the National Rifle Associationmarker have been noted to oppose only some of the act's restrictions, while supporting others such as those forbidding firearms ownership by convicted criminals and the mentally ill. Still other organizations oppose the act altogether, arguing that it is excessively restrictive on law-abiding gun owners, while failing to prevent crime.

The GCA created what is commonly known as the "sporting purposes" standard for all imported firearms, declaring that they must "be generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes." As interpreted by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "sporting purposes" includes only hunting and organized competitive target shooting, but does not include "plinking" or "practical shooting" nor does it allow for collection for historical or design interest. Hence, foreign made machine guns and sub-machine guns such as the AK-47, the FN FAL or the Heckler & Koch MP5 could no longer be imported into the United States for civilian ownership (however, semi-automatic models of the same weapons were and are permitted).

See also


  1. '18 USC 922 (Prohibited Acts)'.
  2. The Dodd Bill Both Fact ... and Fantasy, Neal Knox, June 1966, Guns & Ammo Magazine
  3. Defining the type of weapon under review, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

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