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Former Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole passed away December 5 at the age of 98. A World War II veteran who was the recipient of two Purple Hearts and two Bronze stars, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a five-term Senator from Kansas, Dole served his country with distinction throughout his life.
A quarter century has passed since Dole was in the U.S. Senate, but the freedom he helped secure for law-abiding gun owners lives on. A staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, Dole was instrumental in enacting several pieces of legislation that had a profound effect on gun rights.
Dole was first elected to the Senate in 1968, the same year President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Gun Control Act. In the years that followed, Dole would become one of the GCA’s staunchest critics.
Describing his position on the GCA in those years at a 1988 candidates forum, Dole explained,
Simply stated, the legislation placed undue burdens on law-abiding gun owners, thereby diverting law enforcement resources away from real criminals. That, coupled with overzealous enforcement by government bureaucrats, eventually made the need for remedial legislation painfully obvious.
Putting this understanding into action, in 1979 Dole co-sponsored the first version of the McClure-Volkmer bill (the Firearms Owners' Protection Act, or FOPA).
In 1982 Dole secured the first legislative rollback of the GCA. At the time, the GCA required federal licensing for all ammunition dealers and required that a record be kept on all handgun ammunition sales by retailers. The senator sponsored a successful amendment to a trade bill that removed .22 caliber rimfire ammunition from the GCA’s dealer ammunition sale recordkeeping requirement. Two years later, Dole offered a successful amendment removing the GCA’s restrictions on military surplus imports.
Upon becoming Senate majority leader for the first time in 1985, Dole put FOPA at the top of the legislative agenda, securing passage on July 9 of that year. Writing Dole to thank him for his hard work several days after FOPA passed the Senate, NRA-ILA Executive Director J. Warren Cassidy noted,
all of us here in the Institute will never forget that it was your strong, determined leadership that brought about the passage.
If you had not made it known that you intended to bring that bill to a vote, certain parties – both pro and anti gun – would have once again blocked any positive action.
The House passed FOPA on April 10, 1986. On April 26 of that year Dole served as the keynote speaker at the 115th NRA Members Banquet at the NRA Annual Meetings. During his speech, Dole made clear his intent to shepherd the vital gun rights bill through final Senate approval. FOPA was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on May 19. Pursuant to NRA tradition, NRA presented Dole with a well-deserved flintlock long rifle crafted by master gunmaker Cecil Brooks.
[For more information on the important changes to federal law in FOPA, readers are encouraged to study David T. Hardy’s excellent work on the subject, here and here.]
Dole’s obvious work on behalf of gun owners did not stop some of the more outspoken within the gun rights community from, at times, finding perceived fault with the senator. Speaking in 1988 Dole explained,
I’ve done more than talk about my commitment. I’ve done more than give lip service to gun owner’s rights. I’ve made a difference.
All gun owners should be grateful for the tremendous difference Dole made.
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