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Harold Volkmer, "point man" for the NRA in Congress, dies at 80

Harold Volkmer, "point man" for the NRA in Congress, dies at 80

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Harold Volkmer was a blunt-talking guy who went to Jefferson City and helped reorganize state government.

Then he got elected to Congress, where he spent 20 years helping Missouri communities fight floods while he helped the National Rifle Association beat back efforts to ban assault rifles.

"He wasn't anybody's rubber stamp," said former state Sen. Wayne Goode. "He was his own person."

Mr. Volkmer died Saturday (April 16, 2011) at age 80 at a nursing home in Hannibal after battling pneumonia.

From 1977 to 1997, the Hannibal Democrat represented central and northeast Missouri. The district sometimes included St. Charles and Franklin counties and part of north St. Louis County.

Mr. Volkmer wasn't just against gun control, he was famous as the NRA's point man in Congress.

He helped stop President George H.W. Bush from passing legislation in 1989 to ban the import, manufacture or sale of semiautomatic gun magazines capable of firing more than 15 rounds of ammunition.

While such weapons probably weren't used for hunting, Mr. Volkmer conceded, he said they could be used for target price. "And that's a sport," he said.

In 1994, he helped defeat President Bill Clinton's crime bill. Mr. Volkmer objected to the proposed ban on assault rifles.

Mr. Volkmer was the primary House sponsor of the McClure-Volkmer Gun Decontrol Act. He was proud of the legislative wrangling that got it done: He got a majority of House members to sign a petition to get the bill out of committee after the chairman pronounded it "dead on arrival."

Many law enforcement organizations opposed the law, which they said made it easier to buy guns. It became law in 1986.

Mr. Volkmer was one of the top recipients in the House of NRA campaign contributions and travel benefits.

The Handgun Control group named him to its "Ten Least Wanted" list of Congress members and senators who had fought gun control.

Mr. Volkmer, a deer hunter, said most voters in his district opposed gun control.

"I have a Browning semiautomatic shotgun - a beautiful gun," he told the Post-Dispatch. "You going to say I can't use it anymore?"

Mr. Volkmer grew up in Jefferson City and got his start in politics as a young boy carrying FDR placards for his mother. She taught him to succeed by becoming an insider.

He he worked his way through Jefferson City Junior College as a stock boy and butcher at Kroger. In gratitude, he shopped at Kroger the rest of his life.

After graduating from the University of Missouri Law School he became an assistant state attorney general before serving in the Army.

Back in Missouri, he was elected prosecuting attorney for Marion County in 1960 and then state represenative from 1967 through 1976. He served on the "Little Hoover Commission" that led to reorganization of the executive branch in 1974.

In 1976, he was elected to the first of ten terms in Congress.

A friend described him as a progressive in the Legislature who became more conservative in Congress, where he continued to receive support from labor organizations.

He helped pass legislation that got Hannibal's flood wall completed just days before the flood of 1993 and the Flood Relocation Act that helped entire communities move out of flood plains.

As a two-pack-a-day smoker, he sent a "Dear Colleague" letter in 1988 asking other House members to join his "no smoke" group.

Eight months later, he turned up at a posh resort in Indian Wells, Calif., the guest of the Tobacco Instiutute for four days. He explained that, "we have a few tobacco growers in Missouri."

As for cigarettes, he said: "I'm still smoking a pack a day."

His first wife, Shirley, died in 1995, and in 1996, he lost a bid for an eleventh term to Republican Kenny Hulshof.

While still in Congress, he worked for the NRA as chairman of its Civil Rights Defense Fund, providing legal help to individuals.

After leaving Congress, he served 12 years on the NRA's board of directors.

Mr. Volkmer had a reputation as a workhorse. Even in recent months, as his illness progressed, he used a walker to attend a January meeting of the NRA board.

Visitation will be 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. Tuesday at the James O'Donnell Funeral Home in Hanibal. Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Holy Family Catholic Church in Hannibal. Burial will be at Holy Family Catholic Cemetery.

Survivors include his widow, Dian Volkmer; three children and four grandchildren.

Kim Bell of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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