Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights

By Glenn H. Utter | Go to book overview

M

Mailing of Firearms Act (MFA)

Prior to the major push for gun control legislation in the 1930s that ultimately resulted in passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Federal Firearms Act in 1938, the Mailing of Firearms Act of 1924 (MFA), also known as the Miller Act, was one of the few successes for gun control advocates. The law, which is still in effect today, prohibits sending through the United States Post Office pistols and other firearms that could be concealed on the person.

Consideration of the MFA followed soon after the introduction of another gun control bill supported by Senator John K. Shields, Democrat of Tennessee. The Shields bill would have prohibited the interstate shipment of all handguns except service revolvers, the so-called "big pistols" that Shields considered appropriate for home protection. The bill received legislative consideration in 1921, but extensive opposition developed. Because firearms manufacturing companies were highly concentrated geographically, the bill would have had a significant effect on the industry. Representatives of gun interests argued that the bill's restrictions might jeopardize national defense. Senator Frank Brandegee, Republican from Connecticut, a major gun manufacturing state, strongly opposed the bill and kept it from ever leaving the Judiciary Committee. When Shields lost his reelection bid in 1924, the bill died forever.

Republican Representative John F. Miller experienced much greater success in gaining passage of a gun control bill. Miller's constituents in Seattle, Washington, concerned with the mail-order sales of handguns, pressed him to introduce legislation to prohibit mail shipments of handguns. Unlike the Shields bill, Miller's proposal received wide support. An organized letter writing campaign informed Republican President Calvin Coolidge that the availability of pistols through the mail was tempting young people into criminal activity. A resolution from the United National Association of Post Office Clerks supported the legislation. The opposition of gun advocates could not overcome the strong support for the bill. No representatives from small arms manufacturers appeared at the hearings. One witness, a spokesman for the American Reclamation Society of Detroit, presented an argument that would be heard many times in the coming decades: The small number of firearms in Great Britain was responsible for that nation's low crime rate and therefore more stringent gun control legislation was also needed in the United States.

In the debate on the House floor, congressmen from the gun manufacturing states of Massachusetts and Connecticut offered no opposition to the bill. What opposition developed came from congressmen from southern and western states, who objected to the bill because they believed it violated the Sec

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