Emory Law Journal


Although mass shootings give rise to particularly visceral reactions and demands for action within the public sector, the corresponding response from legislators has failed to produce any meaningful change. With much of the discourse in the aftermath of these events centering on the polarized gun control-gun rights debate, two proposed solutions—assault weapons bans and universal background checks—often are at the forefront. Although varying by group and often higher immediately following a shooting, public support for these two proposals has yet to translate into legislative action. In this Article, we explore previous attempts by the federal government to regulate assault weapons and implement background checks for all firearm purchases, particularly in response to high-profile (and highly lethal) mass shootings. We situate these efforts in the context of corresponding public support as well as examples of how such regulations may have been effective at creating impediments for the perpetrators. We also explore state legislative efforts, which have been far more successful in enacting legislation related to assault weapons and background checks. Finally, we consider the role of lobbying and interest groups in overshadowing bipartisan support for these proposals, as well as what may be needed to break the perpetual stalemate in Congress and end the cycle of legislative inaction stemming from mass shootings.