The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

On the 30th Anniversary of FOPA

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of one of the most onerous acts of Gun Control ever foisted on the American people. Well, since the passage of the National Firearms Act (NFA) in 1934 anyway. May 19, 1986 is the date that the Firearm Owner Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986 went into law with its illegal Hughes Amendment.

As a result of the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was given wide latitude on the enforcement of regulations pertaining to Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders. A February 1982 report by a Senate subcommittee that studied the Second Amendment said:

“The conclusion is thus inescapable that the history, concept, and wording of the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as its interpretation by every major commentator and court in the first half-century after its ratification, indicates that what is protected is an individual right of a private citizen to own and carry firearms in a peaceful manner.”

The report pointed out that 75% of ATF prosecutions “were aimed at ordinary citizens who had neither criminal intent nor knowledge, but were enticed by agents into unknowing technical violations.” FOPA was meant to address the abuses noted in the 1982 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee report. This is not a slam on the BATFE of the day. After all, they were an enforcement arm of the Internal Revenue Service more concerned with taxes and revenue. It was not in their nature to go after violent offenders and illegal dealers. Their model was to comb through paperwork and regulations.

Sig Brace ATF says no

Among the reforms intended to loosen restrictions on firearm sales were:

  • the reopening of interstate sales of long guns on a limited basis
  • the legalization of ammunition shipments through the U.S. Postal Service (a partial repeal of the Gun Control Act)
  • the removal of the requirement for record keeping on sales of non-armor-piercing ammunition
  • federal protection of transportation of firearms through states where possession of those firearms would otherwise be illegal.

On the surface it sounded like a big win for gun owners.

Slow it down Scooter

Unfortunately, the Act contained a poison pill known as the Hughes Amendment that banned the sale of machine guns manufactured after the date of enactment to civilians. Hughes was a liberal democrat from New Jersey who connived to kill the entire bill. The Democrats did not want to see any of it pass and thought this restriction would make the republicans give up.

At the time NFA laws were still kind of nebulous and most firearm owners had no idea that machine guns were legal to possess.In 52 years of NFA there were only 175,000 registered machine guns, for example.


Adding to that was a slew of rumors and misinformation. For example:

  • “If you own a machine gun, your name goes on a list/”
  • “You give the ATF open access to your home 24/7.”
  • “You have to pay $200 a year to keep it.”

While there is some inherent truth to the first one (if you own any firearm, you're already on a list). The other two were outright fabrications.

This poison pill was added in hopes that the entire bill would die and it was passed under very suspicious circumstances out of committee by notorious tax evader, Charlie Rangel. Watch 8:27 to 9:30, if you can bear listening to that squeaky voice of his for that long.

At the end of the day, the powers that be on the right side of the aisle and the NRA decided that half a loaf was better than none and President Ronald Reagan (yeah, a conservative Republican) signed away our right to own post 1986 machine guns with the stroke of a pen.

The author was 16 years-old at the time, a resident of New York City and 7 months short of his enlistment into the Marine Corps. I was old enough to know I was screwed and too young to do anything about it.


If you are from a younger generation a few things to keep in mind are:
•We had no internet.
•C-Span to watch these proceedings was not available like it is today.
•Most gun owners were hunters and did not care to own anything that had black plastic stocks.
•The price of an M16 was within $100 of the price of an AR15
•You could still form one a machine gun until May 18, 1986.

Thirty years later

For three decades we have heard that the gains in FOPA were worth it, but were they really?

Today we have cities and states running roughshod over FOPA with regard to ammunition purchases and interstate transport. The only thing that still stands is the onerous ban on machine guns which has inflated their prices well beyond their material value.

For this author, May 19, 1986, is a day that will forever live in infamy. Not only because of Hughes, but our admiration of President Reagan kind of died that day, too.

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Free