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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Gun Control

Q: Is Congress going to require a federal license to own a handgun?

A: A Chicago congressman’s bill, H.R. 45, would require that, but it has little support. The same bill died quietly in a House subcommittee last year.


Is this true?


It’s Started: Obama to take Guns

Here they come, ready or not. Feel the water getting warmer?

Are you ready for the House Bill titled ‘HR 45, Blair Holt Licensing and Record Act of 2009’. It will make it illegal to own a firearm unless it is registered with the database in  Washington  D.C. . . . .


We have cut this e-mail short – the original goes on at great length and makes claims that we won’t go into here.

Similar items have been posted on various Web sites opposed to gun control laws. Many imply that gun-registration legislation has a strong chance of passage, and some complain that the news media is ignoring a big story. One even claimed that the proposal was somehow hidden in the stimulus legislation that was charging through Congress, which was not true.

The fact is that there is such a bill, but so far it has shown little signs of life.

 Facts about H.R. 45

H.R. 45 would – if enacted – require a federal license to own "any handgun" or "any semiautomatic firearm that can accept any detachable ammunition feeding device."

It has a single sponsor, Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago. It was introduced on the first day of the new Congress, and on Feb. 9 it was referred to subcommittee as a routine matter. As of Feb. 20, it was still sitting there with no action scheduled.

That’s the way the vast majority of bills die – and the way this same legislation died last year after Rush introduced it in the previous Congress.

Lawmakers often introduce bills to make a political statement, frequently for home consumption. But few such measures have much hope of getting serious consideration, let alone passage. Rush, for example, has sponsored a total of 75 bills since he first came to the House in 1993, according to the nonpartisan site GovTrack.us. But only five of those bills have been enacted into law. Nearly 90 percent of them – a total of 66 bills – did not make their way out of committee.

Rush introduced this same legislation in June 2007, as H.R. 2666. When Congress adjourned last year that bill died quietly in the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, the same subcommittee where H.R. 45 now resides. It did eventually attract 16 other House sponsors, but by the time Congress adjourned last year, H.R. 2666 had not received a formal hearing, and it never came to a vote even in subcommittee.

Prospects Improved?

Prospects may be a bit better this time around. One of those who cosponsored the bill in 2007 was Democratic Rep. Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago, who is now President Barack Obama’s chief of staff in the White House. Democrats also have expanded their majorities in both House and Senate.

On the other hand, the White House has not endorsed this legislation as yet, and as a candidate Obama said repeatedly during the campaign, "I’m not going to take away your guns." And he steered away from anything so sweeping as a call for national handgun licensing. Even the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence does not list national handgun licensing among its current legislative priorities, which we take as an indication that they see little chance that H.R. 45 can advance. The Brady Campaign is setting much more modest gun-control goals, such as requiring a criminal background check of those who buy guns at gun shows, as is now required for those who buy from dealers.

See for Yourself

 Whether you are against Rush’s legislation or for it, you may check on it for yourself at the Library of Congress’ "Thomas" Web site. From the Thomas home page, just type "H.R. 45" in the search box and click the "bill number" button and hit return. That will bring up a page from which you may call up the full text of the bill, a summary from the Congressional Research Service, a listing of all House or Senate actions and votes, and so forth.

Another way to follow the legislation’s progress (or lack of it) is on the private but nonpartisan site GovTrack.us. It is a bit easier to use than the Thomas site, which can be clumsy for the beginner. GovTrack also permits the user to set up an RSS feed about events related to a specific bill, and to bookmark a search directly to H.R. 45 or any other bill.

– Brooks Jackson


111th Congress. H.R. 45. Jan. 2009.

110th Congress. H.R. 2666. June 2007.