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The FOPA of '86

A recent post contained a reference to what -must- be the FOPA of '86. The tone of the reference seemed to involve a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the FOPA and the role of pro-2A backers of the measure. If you've made up your mind to resent those who worked to pass FOPA and have no intent to be swayed by the history of FOPA, read no further. If you've heard/read commentary by people who resent the FOPA, speaking disparagingly of it (I certainly have both heard and read such) and assumed that they knew whereof they spoke, please keep reading.

The McClure-Volkmer bills which became FOPA was written to reduce the abuses, word used advisedly, of power by gov'ts State and federal, against firearm owners throughout the USA. The -vast- majority of pro-2A activists favored the McClure-Volkmer bills. The act has had -huge- implications that have been in effect in the favor of -all- USA firearm owners for 30yrs. The pressure being brought to bear -against- private firearm ownership as of '86 could certainly be expected to prevent new entrants into firearm ownership. And the 18 year history of GCA was starting to make those abuses the norm. Hint: Fewer owners means less political clout; less political clout, more pressure: a self re-enforcing cycle. Examples follow:

At the time, 1986, I had fairly fresh recollections from working retail, of having to record: the name (ID req'd) of every person who purchased -ammunition-; the caliber; the number of rounds purchased; date; some other information of which I'm not confident in recalling correctly. Of course using '70s-tech (pen and paper) capturing such detailed records slowed retail purchases to a crawl and caused stores to include the cost of the labor involved into the price of ammo. Far worse: Who needs a national -firearm owner- registry when you can find out who has purchased ammo in what calibers?

The USA was a patchwork of firearm laws (as it remains) wherein one could peaceably take a hunting trip, be detoured into an unexpected jurisdiction and become an instant "felon". Lack of criminal intent had been deliberately removed as a defense against many firearm prohibition laws: this between the wording of the GCA '68 and interpretation by 2A-hostile courts. This is an offense to morality and a deliberate form of persecution for example:

- to make a -shoplifting- charge stick, a prosecutor needed to establish that the allegedly stolen item(s) had not -accidentally- fallen into the accused's umbrella

- to convict an upstanding citizen of a -felony- only required that he trip and, to break his fall, reach his hand across an invisible line (perhaps hyperbole but not by much)

Investigation by Congress (primarily the Senate) showed that the large majority of ATF cases as of '86 were what a normal person would call "entrapment": enticing of private firearm transactions that could be characterized as "dealing" due to an apparent "profit" inherent to the "sting". Accused could reliably be counted upon to plead guilty to a serious crime (including supposed "felony") rather than lose all their worldly goods in fighting an opponent that had inexhaustible resources to bring to bear.

GCA gave a statutory basis to other forms of persecution: import bans that inflate prices; the entire "sporting purpose" meme; etc. Revolting!

FOPA *fixed* these abuses and others to degrees ranging up to completely. Those my age and older, with -any- connection to the American gun culture back then, ought to remember these and other abuses with -great- repugnance. In a nation of 200M people, the abuses were rarely big news. But to the gun culture, it was writing on the wall for any of those who were reading. -Much- of the federal level gun prohibition effort was eradicated by FOPA; significant abuses at the State level were curtailed by FOPA. FOPA to some degree helped create the environment that has protected firearm ownership from a systematic assault ever since.

1985 - 1986:
Using some pretty clever maneuvers, Rep. Volkmer(D-MO) and co. got a bill to the House floor to eliminate/reduce these intolerable abuses. This despite the chairman of the controlling House committee declaring the [Senate] bill DOA. What bringing the bill to the floor -took- to accomplish was a petition signed by a majority of the House! That's very like getting >1/2 the House to -sponsor- the bill. None-the-less, the vote -was- made very late in the last day before a break (IIRC). The Speaker (SotH) was absent for the final vote and left in charge the multiply despicable Rep. Wrangle(D-NY). Several neutering amendments and a decoy bill had been defeated. But late in the debate, I've heard it argued in violation of House rules, Rep. Wm Hughes (D-NJ) offered an amendment. Hughes' -intent- was to ban private purchase of machineguns. Hughes was apparently only semi-literate and/or perhaps ignorant of the existing NFA provision; Hughes' actual wording was fairly widely regarded as having no legal effect whatever:

... it shall be unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun ...
[except]
... a transfer to or by, or possession by or under the authority of, the United States ...

Since -all- machinegun transfers were mandated by the NFA '34(?) to be made "under the authority of the United States", many concluded Hughe's was unaware of the NFA and/or engaging in political theater gauged to the apparent collective intellectual achievements of his constituency. Wrangle allowed the amendment and declared a voice vote to have passed it. Wrangle then ignored any calls for a recorded vote. In effect, Wrangle -applied- Hughes' amendment over any objections by backers of the McClure-Volkmer act and opponents of Hughes' amendment.

McClure-Volkmer / FOPA backers looked at the ... excrescence ... of Hughes and Wrangle in the pie ... and looked at what it had taken to get FOPA that far; what measures the, now forewarned, opponents would take to prevent a repetition of their failure to stop FOPA. Legislators and lobbyists could see that getting the votes to strip Hughes' amendment was not going to happen. Members who had helped reach the >1/2 level to take the bill to the House floor were not going to go along with another such fight just to remove Hughes' amendment. The widely held conclusion was that getting FOPA passed had been in the nature of a miracle; a repeat miracle could not be expected; some [optimists] thought that the Hughes' amendment might be struck down based solely on the irregularity (read "malfeasance") of its "passage"; some held that the wording was such that it would have no new effect; in any case its intent was clearly unconstitutional as flying in the face of the controlling SCOTUS finding in Miller (machineguns being useful to military operations [duh!]). Given all the above, many FOPA backers concluded that any ill-effect of Hughes' would likely be short-lived whereas the good effects of the act would begin immediately and continue until a repeal of FOPA. Besides, half-a-loaf is better than no bread; FOPA was much better than half of a loaf.

-After- FOPA went into effect, the executive branch, incarnations of ATF, has enforced what Hughes was trying to write rather than what Hughes' staff -did- write. NRA-ILA has actually done -some- engagement in attempts to oppose the ATF's interpretation of the Hughes' amendment. Defeated on an early effort at forcing re-interpretation, NRA/NRA-ILA may not have continued much beyond that: IDK. One can argue that NRA-ILA has been too cautious on that score: that's *opinion*; one is entitled to it. On any given day, I might share it. However, NRA does provide a platform from which to speak for Colion Noir: a gifted and vocal proponent of repealing Hughes'. To characterize NRA / NRA-ILA as -promoting- Hughes' amendment or as "selling-out", to fail to comprehend the enormous benefit *all* American gun owners have enjoyed due to McClure-Volkmer (FOPA), NRA-ILA's first major production: well, check my facts on the above and see if -that- opinion can still be supported.

Thank you to those who made it here.
 
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