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Firearms Owner’s Protection Act (1986)

The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA), Pub. L. No. 99-308, 100 Stat. 449 (May 19, 1986), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq., is a United States federal law that revised many statutes in the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Federal Firearms License regulatory reform

Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, now the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) was given wide latitude on the enforcement of regulations pertaining to Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders. Allegations of abuse by ATF inspectors soon arose from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and certain targeted Federal firearms licensees.

Machine gun ban (The Hughes Amendment)

As debate for FOPA was in its final stages, Rep. William J. Hughes (D-N.J.) proposed an amendment (House Amendment 777 to H.R. 4332) to ban the civilian ownership or transfer of any fully-automatic weapon which was not registered by May 19, 1986. However, any such weapon manufactured and registered before the May 19 cutoff could still be legally owned and transferred by civilians.

“Safe passage” provision

One of the law’s provisions was that persons traveling from one place to another cannot be arrested for a firearms offense in a state that has strict gun control laws if the traveler is just passing through (short stops for food and gas and presumably overnight stops on long trips excepted) and the firearms and ammunition are not immediately accessible, unloaded and, in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment, in a locked container.

Clarification of prohibited persons

The older Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits firearms ownership in the US by certain broad categories of individuals thought to pose a threat to public safety. However, this list differed between the US House and the US Senate versions of the bill, and led to great confusion. This list was later augmented, modified, and clarified in the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. The 1986 list is:

  • Anyone who has been convicted in any court of, a felony punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year, excluding those crimes punishable by imprisonment related to the regulation of business practices.
  • Anyone who is a fugitive from justice.
  • Anyone who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.
  • Anyone who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution.
  • Any alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or an alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa. The exception is if the nonimmigrant is in possession of a valid hunting license issued by a US state.
  • Anyone who has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions.
  • Anyone who, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his or her citizenship.
  • Anyone that is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner. (Added in 1996, with the Lautenberg Amendment.)
  • Anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. (Added in 1996, with the Lautenberg Amendment)[6]
  • A person who is under indictment or information for a crime (misdemeanor) punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding two years cannot lawfully receive a firearm. Such person may continue to lawfully possess firearms obtained prior to the indictment or information, and if cleared or acquitted can receive firearms without restriction.
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