American Rifleman - July 2011 - 84

Official Journal

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In Memoriam
NRA Marks The Passing Of A Second Amendment Giant:

U.S. Rep. Harold L. Volkmer

A

merican gun owners lost a giant
on April 16, 2011, when U.S. Rep.
Harold L. Volkmer died at the age
of 80 in his hometown of Hannibal, Mo.
"I knew Harold, first as a pro-gun
legislator and then as an NRA director, for
more than 30 years," said NRA Executive
Vice President Wayne LaPierre. "It was
truly a great privilege and a singular
honor to work with him. Working
alongside Harold Volkmer, I learned that
if you were determined not to lose and
you were willing to fight every day for
what you believe in, you can beat the
powers that be. That's exactly what he
did in successfully passing the Firearms
Owners' Protection Act in 1986. He
fought for Second Amendment freedom
against all odds and that's what saved
American gun owners."
To fully understand Volkmer's service to
gun owners, look back at the abuses that
occurred under the 1968 Gun Control Act
(GCA). It permitted felony convictions for
conduct that had no criminal intent, and
it allowed for the confiscation of a dealer's
entire inventory or a collector's entire collection on the theory it was "intended to be
used" in violation. The GCA made it a felony
to "engage in the business" of dealing in
guns, without defining that term-and
collectors were being convicted for selling
four guns over the period of a year. The
sight of gun collectors being handcuffed
at gun shows and of dealers being shut
down with their inventory confiscated
was not uncommon.
Starting in 1979, Rep. Volkmer and Sen.
James A. McClure introduced bills that
would extensively reform the Gun Control
Act, requiring proof of criminal intent for
most violations, restricting confiscations,
defining "engaged in the business" to
protect collectors, allowing for interstate
transportation of firearms through states
with anti-gun laws, and making many
other reforms. The fight for the reform bills
was difficult, but Sen. McClure was able to
push the bill through the Senate in 1985.
Then came the toughest battle. In
the House, Democrats had a 70-vote

74 J

uly

2011

www.americanrifleman.org

majority and the leadership was solidly
anti-gun. The Speaker was Tip O'Neill, and
Peter Rodino, chairman of the Judiciary
Committee, pronounced the bill "dead on
arrival" in the House.
Volkmer knew he must lead a revolution
against his own party's leadership, and win
more than 70 defections.
He filed a "discharge petition," which
could pry a bill out of committee and
force a floor vote. Those petitions were
almost impossible to win since they
required the signatures of a majority of
the entire House, or 218 members. Only
the leadership was allowed to know who
had signed, so it could pressure them,
while petition supporters had to work in
the dark. Over the last 50 years, only nine
petitions have succeeded.
But the names on the discharge
petition kept growing, until a panicked
House Judiciary Committee reported
out its own watered-down version of the
bill. It was too late. A few days later, the
discharge petition passed.
Volkmer led the charge as floor
manager. When the vote count was done,
the Firearms Owners' Protection Act passed
by a stunning 292-131. More astoundingly,
a majority of Democrats had defied their
leadership and rallied behind Volkmer.
He needed a seemingly impossible
70 defections. He received 131!

In a speech before the U.S. House of
Representatives, Rep. Volkmer said, "This
legislation represents the second most
important step in the history of American
gun owners. The first was the Second
Amendment to the Constitution."
Harold Volkmer had lived in the
service of the Second Amendment,
and he died in its service. As a member
of the prestigious NRA Executive
Council, Volkmer attended the NRA
Board of Directors meeting in January,
accompanied, as always, by his beloved
wife, Dian. He contracted pneumonia
and was repeatedly hospitalized over the
next three months. Yet he telephonically
chaired a meeting of the Committee on
Elections in March, and continued to
work as a trustee of the NRA Civil Rights
Defense Fund. "We received Harold's last
recommendation for grants on a legal
case shortly after his death," said Defense
Fund chairman William H. Dailey. "He
served our cause to the end."
Volkmer had attended the University
of Missouri Law School and achieved the
remarkable feat of passing the Missouri
bar exam while still a student. After
serving in the Army, he was elected
county prosecutor, and then to a seat in
the Missouri House.
In 1966, voters elected him to the
U.S. House of Representatives, where he
served for 10 terms. He served on the
House Judiciary, Agriculture, and Science
and Technology Committees, and chaired
the Space Subcommittee when the
space station was launched. After leaving
Congress, Volkmer served on the NRA
Board of Directors from 1988 to 2010.
He chaired the NRA Civil Rights Defense
Fund and the Committee on Elections
and served as vice-chair of the Committee
on Hearings and the Legislative Policy
Committee.
Rep. Harold L. Volkmer was laid to rest
in April; Sen. James A. McClure was laid to
rest the month before. For gun owners,
Winston Churchill's phrase seems most
appropriate: "Never ... was so much owed
by so many to so few."-Dave Hardy


http://www.americanrifleman.Org

American Rifleman - July 2011

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Rifleman - July 2011

American Rifleman - July 2011 - 1
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