Right to Bear Arms - 1986 - Firearm Owners Protection Act:

The McClure-Volkmer Act is also known as the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA).  This act is an addition/revision to the Gun Control Act of 1968.  To keep things relatively simple, the entire law will not be published here.  However, it can be found in the sources below.  I am continually gathering additional information on this topic, and will update as I learn more.

The origins of this law begin with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF or BATF).  The ATF is under the department of the Treasury and is responsible for enforcing all federal gun laws in the United States.  In the 1980’s, there was public outcry for the ATF to be held accountable for abuses of power.  Congress responded by creating the FOPA.  Senator James McClure of Idaho sponsored the FOPA as S49.  The goal of the act was increasing gun owner’s rights.  Here are the effects of the FOPA in its final version: 

  1. Opens up interstate sales of long guns, within some limitations.  In-person sales can only be to residents of an adjacent state.  Other sales must go through an FFL transfer.

  2. Allows interstate transport of firearms, provided no local laws are broken in the process.

  3. Makes it illegal for anyone to transfer a firearm to a prohibited person.  Previously, it was only illegal for dealers to do this.

  4. Provides any prohibited persons can get relief of their disability by applying to the Treasury Secretary. This has been repealed in practice by the program being specifically unfunded in the federal budget.

  5. It prevents the government from creating a list of gun owners from dealer records.

  6. Limits the number of inspections on a dealer by the BATF without a search warrant.

  7. Allows FFL holders to engage in business away from their normal business location.  I.E. at a gun show.

  8. Allows ammunition shipments through the US Postal Service.

  9. Ended record keeping on ammunition sales, except for armor piercing or prohibited ammunition such as explosive.

  10. Eliminates the FFL requirement for ammunition only dealers.

  11. Specifically states that those disposing of personal firearm collections do not need an FFL.

  12. To get an FFL, firearms do not have to be a principle business activity.

Additionally, the act added laws that don’t necessarily apply to gun owners at all:

  • Adds serious drug offenses to the list of crimes receiving enhanced penalties.

There were additional changes that were seen as a “negative” by gun rights activists:

  1. Prohibits civilians from possessing full-auto firearms manufactured after May 19, 1986.

  2. Redefines 'machine gun' to include those sets of parts or parts that could be used to convert a semiautomatic firearm into a machine gun.

  3. Doubles the penalties for use of a machine gun, silencer or muffler in a violent federal felony.

Item #1 was the primary one cited by gun rights activists as being a problem.  By limiting what guns a civilian can own, they have essentially created a very limited supply situation.  Guns such as an M16 that were selling for $700 prior to the act, rose to $25,000 overnight.  Other, more rare weapons are even higher.

Let’s  look at the full story, and how this addition made it into the FOPA….

FOPA was started on January 3, 1985 in the Senate.  Several changes were made to the original proposal through amendments, but it was passed on July 9, 1985 with a 79-15 vote and was sent to the House for review.  The bill sat in the House Judiciary Committee through February 27, 1986 where it was recommended for a full House vote.

Changes were made to the FOPA through HR4332.  William J Hughes of New Jersey started HR4332 (was HR4305), the Federal Firearms Law Reform Act, in the House on March 6, 1986.  It made it’s way though the House Judiciary Committee, and was proposed to the full House on March 14, 1986.  The bill as written would affect the following:

  • Completely prohibit the possession or transfer of silencers.  Would authorize the Dept. of Treasury to buy any registered silencer.

  • Makes it unlawful for any person to sell or ship any firearm or ammunition to someone who:

  1. is under indictment for, or has been convicted of, a felony

  2. is a fugitive from justice

  3. is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance

  4. has been adjudicated as a mental incompetent or committed to a mental institution

  5. has received a dishonorable discharge from the armed forces

  6. has renounced U.S. citizenship

  7. is an illegal alien

  • Makes it unlawful for such persons to receive, possess, or transfer any firearm or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce.

  • Permits gun sales at certain gun shows.

  • Prohibits the importation of the barrel of any firearm if the importation of that firearm is prohibited.

  • Revises the criteria reviewed by the Secretary in approving applications for licenses. Grants the Secretary authority to suspend (rather than just revoke) a license.

  • Modifies the penalty provisions for certain licensee violations. Eliminates the record-keeping requirements for ammunition sales involving less than 1,000 rounds. Codifies existing regulations requiring reports of multiple firearm sales.

  • Establishes additional mandatory penalties for the use or carrying of firearms during certain drug trafficking activities. Imposes additional mandatory penalties for machine gun use in crimes.

  • Limits the Government's authority to seize firearms and ammunition to felony violations.

  • Allows individuals who have violated the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act to apply for relief from the legal disabilities imposed by such statutes. Authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to grant such relief.

  • Allows the interstate transport of rifles and shotguns by individuals under certain circumstances. Prohibits the sale, delivery, or transfer of a handgun from a licensed importer, manufacturer, or dealer to an unlicensed individual unless the documentation of the transaction is sent to local law enforcement officers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Once the bill reached the House floor, seven amendments were proposed to the bill.  Of the eight, six were approved by voice votes.  In addition to Rep. Hughes, two others became involved with the bill.  The first is Rep. Harold Volkmer of Missouri.  The second is Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida.  Here are the amendments, who submitted them, outcomes, and descriptions:

  1. 770 – Volkmer – Passed - A substitute amendment to ease the interstate sale of both rifles and handguns. It eliminates the requirement that gun dealers notify police of handgun purchases and preempts state and local laws to ease interstate travel with handguns as well as rifles for any legal purpose. It also eliminates the need for many gun sellers to obtain a license and keep records of their gun sales.

  2. 771 – Volkmer – Passed – A perfecting amendment to the Volkmer substitute.

  3. 772 – Hughes – Passed – A technical amendment.  Details unknown.

  4. 773 – Hughes – Failed – An amendment to the Volkmer substitute amendment as amended by the Volkmer amendment (770). It prohibits the interstate sale of handguns and eliminates provisions which preempt state and local laws to permit individuals to carry handguns between states. It strikes provisions which alter current law regarding dealer licensing, and eliminates language which permits dealers to transfer firearms to and from their personal collections without keeping records of such transactions.

  5. 774 – McCollum – Passed – An amendment to the VOLKMER substitute as amended by the VOLKMER amendment to permit the shipment of a firearm to a purchaser's state of residence after a face to face transaction in another state. It prohibits possession of a single machine gun or silencer conversion part which is designed solely and exclusively for conversion. It also prohibits individuals working for convicted felons from carrying handguns.

  6. 775 – Hughes – Failed – An amendment to the Volkmer substitute as amended by the Volkmer amendment. The amendment eliminates provisions which preempt State and local laws to permit individuals to carry handguns between States.

  7. 776 – Hughes – Passed – An amendment to the Volkmer substitute amendment as amended to eliminate the provisions that permit the interstate sale of handguns.

  8. 777 – Hughes – Passed – An amendment to make it unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun except in the case of a machinegun that was lawfully possessed before the date of enactment.

Gun rights activists applauded amendment 770 as it prevented the limitations on silencers as well as loosened many of the changes that were originally proposed in HR4332.


Amendment 777 is the one that created the changes on automatic weapons law and was highly criticized by gun rights activists.  Some refer to it as the “Hughes Amendment”.  It is commonly stated that the amendment was put up for a voice vote late at night with very few members of Congress present.  They then state that the vote wasn’t actually approved, but the Speaker of the House put it down as “approved” anyway. 


In the book "Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist", the author states that he watched the voice vote on CSPAN.  He further states that the vote did obviously fail, but was counted as passed.  Several objections from members of the house were ignored.


On April 9, 1986, the bill was brought up before the House floor.  Several of the amendments were voted on by the floor, including 771, 772, 773, 774, and 775.  Amendment 776 was proposed but not voted on.  The House then marked the bill as “unfinished business” and closed session for the day.


On April 10, 1986, the bill was brought back up before the House.  Amendment 776 was voted on and approved by a recorded vote of 233 – 134.  Amendment 770 was proposed and approved via a recorded vote of 286 – 136.  Amendment 777 was approved by a voice vote, so it is unknown what the margin was.  This is where the controversy comes from.  However, after all amendments were proposed, the entire amended bill was approved by the House with a vote of 292 – 130.  This leads me to believe that 777 was approved with approximately 420 members present.  The only way to know for sure would be to see the Congressional logs, and I’m looking into doing just that.


On April 10, 1986, the House voted to integrate the just-passed HR4332 with the FOPA.  The House then approved the FOPA.  The newly amended FOPA was returned to the Senate for re-approval.  On May 6, 1986 the Senate approved the amended version by voice vote, and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law on May 19, 1986.







"Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist", Richard Feldman, Wiley Publishing, 2007


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