Laws That Bit The Bullet: A Review of Legislative Responses to School Shootings


The recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut sparked an immediate discourse calling for a review of gun control legislation. However, this discourse was not new; rather, it was one that routinely follows this type of tragedy. In the wake of school shootings such as Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Jonesboro, a similar discourse appeared which prompted policymakers to introduce a number of pieces of legislation aimed at more efficient firearms regulation. While a few of these bills were enacted, many never made it past introduction. The flurry of legislative responses to such incidences warrants further discussion as to whether these bills are effective, or rather simply “feel good legislation.” Further, public opinion is a driving force behind such policy, but how can this change in the wake of school shootings? This paper examines both considerations and proposes directions for continued research in this critical and understudied area.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, a tax of $200 in 1934 would cost gun owners and manufacturers $3,425.04 in 2012 (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.). However, the tax has never increased beyond the $200 set forth in 1934 (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, n.d.).

  2. 2.

    The gun used to assassinate President Kennedy was a 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle purchased by Lee Harvey Oswald through the mail (The Warren Commission Report, 1964; see pages 118–119).

  3. 3.

    A consumer had to be 21 years old to purchase a handgun. In order to purchase a shotgun or a rifle, the consumer needed only to be 18.

  4. 4.

    Requirements for reporting the sales of armor-piercing ammunition did remain in effect (Firearm Owners’ Protection Act, 1986).

  5. 5.

    The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was signed into law on November 30, 1993 but did not take effect until February 28, 1994. See House Bill 1025 (1993).

  6. 6.

    See House Bill 3355 (1994).

  7. 7.

    The EJJA amended the following Arkansas codes: § 5-2-301 to −318; § 5-4-402; § 9-27-303; § 9-27-309; § 9-27-316; § 9-27-317; §9-27-318; § 9-27-325; § 9-27-327; § 9-27-330; § 9-27-331; §§ 9-27-501 to −510; § 9-28-206; §9-28-210. See also Senate Bill 505 (1999).

  8. 8.

    On October 7, 2008, Jonesboro shooter Andrew Golden, under his new alias Drew Douglas Grant, applied for a concealed handgun permit in Arkansas. After the State Police linked Grant to Golden, the permit was denied (Koon & Brantley, 2008). The permit, however, was not denied under the provisions of Senate Bill 505 (1999), but rather because of false information supplied on the application (Koon & Brantley, 2008).

  9. 9.

    House Bill 1316 amended Arkansas code § 9-28-801.

  10. 10.

    The barrels of the shotguns used in the Columbine massacre had been sawed off to make them easier to conceal. This made them shorter than 18 in., and thus they were in violation of the National Firearms Act of 1934.

  11. 11.

    Later versions of the Gun Show Background Check Act include House Bill 4034 (2002), House Bill 260 (2003), Senate Bill 2577 (2008), and Senate Bill 843 (2009).

  12. 12.

    Later versions of the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act include House Bill 3832 (2004), House Bill 3540 (2005), House Bill 96 (2007), and House Bill 2324 (2009).

  13. 13.

    See Senate Bill 35 (2011) and House Bill 591 (2011). Passage projections available at

  14. 14.

    Prior to the shooting at Virginia Tech, the 1991 Luby’s cafeteria massacre was the largest mass casualty shooting in the United States. In this event, George Jo Hennard drove his pick-up truck through the front window of the Killeen, TX eatery (Hayes 1991). As patrons rushed to his aid, Hennard opened fire, killing 22 patrons and wounding 20 others before turning the gun on himself. The July 20, 2012 shooting at the Aurora, CO movie theater has a higher total victim count (70) with less total fatalities (12) than the Virginia Tech shooting (Frosch & Johnson, 2012).

  15. 15.

    Police searches located Cho’s computer but the hard drive was missing. There has been speculation that he dumped it in the campus’ Duck Pond during this two hour break, but a search of the pond never turned up the hard drive (Adams, 2007).

  16. 16.

    See Virginia Exec. Order No. 50, 2007.

  17. 17.

    Following the Virginia Tech shooting, Arkansas, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin passed legislation to improve reporting (Brady Campaign Press Release, 2011). Both Arkansas (Jonesboro) and Oregon (Springfield) had been sites of previous school shootings, although Brady background checks were not relevant because the shooters were minors.


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The authors wish to thank Mark Stafford for his insight and feedback on an earlier draft of this paper, as well as the reviewer for their comments. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

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Correspondence to Jaclyn Schildkraut.

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Schildkraut, J., Hernandez, T.C. Laws That Bit The Bullet: A Review of Legislative Responses to School Shootings. Am J Crim Just 39, 358–374 (2014).

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  • School shootings
  • Columbine
  • Virginia Tech
  • Gun control
  • Mental health