1980s were the glory days of the National Rifle Association of America (NRA).
The organization's golden era began in 1980 with the election of NRA Life Member
Ronald Reagan as president. Reagan's victory was described by the New York
Times as "one of the darkest hours for handgun control advocates." In Congress,
after two decades of fighting—and often losing—a defensive battle over gun control,1
the NRA was prepared to launch its first offensive effort in decades. And although
gun control took a back seat to economic issues in 1981, the Times warned,
"The New Right and its Congressional allies...will be demanding action [in 1982]
on their priorities—including gun control."
got it. The NRA unveiled legislation that was nothing less than a pro-gun wish
list: the "Firearms Owners' Protection Act." Commonly known as "McClure-Volkmer"
for its congressional sponsors, then-Senator James McClure (R-ID) and Representative
Harold Volkmer (D-MO), it was designed to roll back broad sections of the Gun
Control Act of 1968 (GCA).2 Early versions even removed restrictions
on the mail-order sale of firearms. (Throughout this study the bill and law will
be referred to as McClure-Volkmer.)
NRA direct mail
heralded the bill as legislation "every American gun owner and hunter need [sic]
passed into law." According to Congressman Volkmer, the importance of the bill
to gun owners was surpassed only by the Second Amendment itself.3 The
bill, said Volkmer, would:
the honest citizen, who might not know every single line and provision of the
23 pages of the Gun Control Act, the 20,000 firearms laws already on the books
and thousands of pages of gun regulations. With the...bill as law, we will have
taken away from the government bureaucrats the opportunity to punish, harass and
entrap America's law-abiding firearms owners.4
NRA and the bill's supporters portrayed McClure-Volkmer as a gun owners' relief
act. In reality, the bill did much more to advance the interests of gun sellers—both
Federal Firearms License (FFL)5 holders and unlicensed individuals—than
those of the average gun owner.
After a long, bitter
debate that pitted the NRA and the firearms industry against gun control advocates
and national police organizations, McClure-Volkmer passed both houses of Congress
and was signed into law by President Reagan on May 19, 1986. McClure-Volkmer—
- Allowed Federal Firearms License holders to sell
guns at gun shows located in their home state.
individuals not federally licensed as gun dealers to sell their personal firearms
as a "hobby."
- Restricted the ability
of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to conduct inspections of
the business premises of federally licensed firearms dealers.
the recordkeeping required of federally licensed firearms dealers, specifically
eliminating recordkeeping of ammunition sales.
the burden of proof for violations of federal gun laws.
a federal program that restored the ability of convicted felons to possess firearms.
Despite the controversy generated by McClure-Volkmer,
little attention has been paid to its effect in the 10 years since the law's enactment.
This study is the first in a series in which the Violence Policy Center (VPC)
will analyze the real-world impact of the NRA's McClure-Volkmer legislation and
gauge the law's effect on public safety.
of McClure-Volkmer is the uncontrolled proliferation of gun shows—events at which
private citizens and federally licensed gun dealers congregate to buy and sell
firearms and related paraphernalia. Although the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms maintains no historical records as to the number of gun shows that
occur annually and can only offer rough estimates as to the number that occur
today, for this study the Violence Policy Center conducted interviews across the
country with law enforcement personnel and gun show organizers to gauge the effect
of the law on the volume of gun shows. The VPC's research reveals that the law
has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number and size of shows, which occur
in auditoriums, fairgrounds, and other outlets in almost every state on virtually
every weekend of the year.6 The VPC's research also reveals that this
dramatic increase is due largely to two little-noticed changes McClure-Volkmer
made in the way that federally licensed firearms dealers are regulated—
- The law made it legal for Federal Firearms License holders
to sell at gun shows.
- The law expanded
the opportunities for private citizens to buy and sell firearms at gun shows by
raising the threshold of what constituted being "engaged in the business" of selling
The result is a readily available
source of weapons and ammunition for a wide variety of criminals—including street
gangs, white supremacists, would-be presidential assassins, and domestic terrorists.
This study has seven sections.
One: The History of McClure-Volkmer details the events leading to the passage
of the McClure-Volkmer bill.
Section Two: McClure-Volkmer's
Gun Show Legacy chronicles the debate over allowing Federal Firearms License
holders to sell at gun shows and details the two changes contained in McClure-Volkmer
that led to the proliferation of gun shows.
Three: Changes Seen at Gun Shows as the Result of McClure-Volkmer describes
the proliferation of gun shows that followed McClure-Volkmer's passage, the competition
between licensed dealers and unlicensed hobbyists, the opportunities presented
to Class 3 machine-gun dealers by gun shows, and the limitations of law enforcement
in effectively policing gun shows.
Illegal Trafficking at Gun Shows examines the most common ways in which illegal
transactions are conducted at gun shows.
Five: Where the Famous and Infamous Shop details notable gun show participants,
such as David Koresh and Timothy McVeigh, and the role gun shows play in the militia
Section Six: "Truck Loads of Parts Are
Readily Available" reveals how gun shows have become a ready market for stolen
Section Seven: Trends looks
at three new developments that may have an effect on gun shows: increased civil
litigation; the decrease in the number of Federal Firearms License holders; and,
the first-time sponsorship of shows by the National Rifle Association.
Eight: Recommendations offers a set of federal and state policy recommendations
based on the study's findings.
also has three appendices.
One is a sample of gun show ads.
Two is the June 1993 testimony of convicted firearms trafficker Edward Daily
III before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal
Appendix Three is the June 1993 testimony
of Bernard Shaw of the Maryland State Police Licensing Division before the U.S.
House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice.
appendices are not included in this on-line edition of the report. For information
on how to order a hard copy of the study, including the appendices, please refer
to the publications page.
- In 1968, Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968.
In 1972, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would have banned the domestic production
and sale of Saturday Night Special handguns, inexpensive, poorly constructed pistols
and revolvers lacking sporting purpose, but no action was taken in the House of
- The Gun Control Act of
1968 is the primary federal law governing the manufacture, distribution, and sale
of firearms and ammunition. The GCA generally prohibited the mail order and interstate
sale of firearms, established standards for the licensing of firearm manufacturers,
importers, and dealers, and banned the importation of both surplus military firearms
and Saturday Night Special handguns.
to the assertions of Representative Volkmer and the NRA, the Second Amendment
of the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee an individual right to keep and bear
arms. No gun control law has ever been struck down as violative of the Second
Amendment and the Supreme Court has ruled that restrictions on gun possession
do not infringe on any fundamental right. Most recently, in 1996 the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that an individual had no standing to raise
a Second Amendment claim. The court held, "Because the Second Amendment guarantees
the right of the states to maintain armed militia, the states alone stand in the
position to show legal injury when this right is infringed." Hickman v. Block,
No. 94-55836 (9th Cir. 1996).
- NRA direct
mail, October 18, 1985.
- The Type 1 Federal
Firearms License (FFL) is the basic license required to sell firearms in America
and is issued by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. FFL holders
can ship and receive firearms and ammunition in interstate commerce via common
carrier in quantity at wholesale prices. Most FFL activity can be conducted free
of local and state regulations that apply to individual purchasers, e.g. waiting
periods or background checks for handgun purchases.
Appendix One for a sampling of gun show advertisements.
Go to Section One: The History of McClure
Return to Table