was intended to limit interstate commerce in guns, so that states with strict regulations were insulated from states with looser regulations (Zimring, 1975). To that end, the act established a system of federal licensing for gun dealers, requiring that all individuals engaged in the business of selling guns must be a federal firearms licensee (FFL). The FFLs were established as the gatekeepers for interstate shipments: only they may legally receive mail-order shipments of guns, and they may not sell handguns to residents of another state. FFLs are required to obey state and local regulations in transacting their business.
The Gun Control Act established conditions on the transfer of firearms. FFLs may not sell handguns to anyone under the age of 21, or long guns to anyone under the age of 18, nor may they sell a gun of any kind to someone who is proscribed from possessing one. The list of those proscribed by federal law includes individuals with a felony conviction or under indictment, fugitives from justice, illegal aliens, and those who have been committed to a mental institution. FFLs must require customers to show identification and fill out a form swearing that they do not have any of the disqualifying conditions specified in the Gun Control Act. Beginning in 1994, the Brady Violence Prevention Act required that FFLs initiate a background check on all handgun purchasers through law enforcement records; in 1998 that requirement was expanded to include the sale of long guns as well.
The 1968 Gun Control Act also established requirements that allowed for the chain of commerce for any given firearm to be traced from its manufacture or import through its first sale by a retail dealer. Each new firearm, whether manufactured in the United States or imported, must be stamped with a unique serial number. Manufacturers, importers, distributors, and FFLs are required to maintain records of all firearms transactions, including sales and shipments received. FFLs must report multiple handgun sales and stolen firearms to BATF and provide transaction records in response to its trace requests. When FFLs go out of business, they are to transfer their transaction records to BATF, which then stores them for tracing (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 2000a). In essence, the 1968 act created a paper trail for gun transactions that can be followed by BATF agents.
The tracing process begins with a law enforcement agency’s submission of a trace request to BATF’s National Tracing Center (NTC). The form requires information regarding the firearm type (i.e., pistol, revolver, shotgun, rifle), the manufacturer, caliber, serial number, and importer (if the gun is of foreign manufacture), the location of the recovery, the criminal offense associated with the recovery, and the name and date of birth of the firearm possessor (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 2000a). This information is entered into BATF’s Firearms Tracing Center at the NTC