Just days after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's undercover investigation led to criminal charges against 10 New York gun dealers for illegal gun sales, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was joined today by Schneiderman, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence to announce the introduction of federal legislation to crack down on corrupt gun dealers and eliminate the steady flow of illegal guns into New York. Nearly 90 percent of the firearms used in gun crimes in New York City come from out of state, at least 90 percent of these guns are illegal. Senator Gillibrand's legislation will be introduced in the U.S. Senate this coming week.
Gillibrand's Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2011 aims to strengthen enforcement against firearm sellers who disregard mandatory background checks and who knowingly distribute illegal weapons. The proposed legislation would toughen penalties on corrupt gun sellers, authorize the U.S. Attorney General to suspend or revoke the license of any corrupt gun dealer, and make it a crime to intentionally sell or purchase illegal firearms. Senator Gillibrand's bill empowers local, state, and federal law enforcement to investigate and prosecute gun traffickers and their entire criminal networks, while protecting responsible, law-abiding gun owners.
The Attorney General's eight-month investigation into the practices of vendors at gun shows throughout the State revealed that on many occasions, weapons sellers failed to conduct a National Instant Criminal Background (NICS) check on the prospective gun buyer, as required by state law. These illegal sales took place even after undercover investigators told the gun sellers that they had orders of protection against them and could not pass a background check.
The investigation also revealed a loophole in the current law that holds the individual gun seller legally accountable but not the gun show operator. Senator Gillibrand is a co-sponsor of federal legislation that would close the nation's "gun show loophole" and keep operators responsible.
"The Attorney General's critical investigation shows just how easy it is for guns to end up in the hands of dangerous people," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. "By cracking down on gun dealers who blatantly disobey the law as well as illegal gun traffickers and their vast criminal networks, we can reduce gun violence and keep our families and neighborhoods safe. We must give law enforcement the tools they need to eliminate illegal guns from the street. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his vigilance in protecting New Yorkers."
"Our investigation confirmed what too many already know: in America, guns are freely available to all, regardless of criminal history or other prohibitive factors," Attorney General Schneiderman said. "The gun show accountability gap puts communities in New York and across the country at risk, and it must be addressed. I support Senator Gillibrand's proposal to stiffen penalties against those who ignore the rule of law, to protect our communities and provide law enforcement officials with the tools they need to bring criminals to justice."
"As a native New Yorker, I am proud to stand with Senator Gillibrand and Attorney General Schneiderman to endorse the Senator's landmark "Gun Trafficking Prevention Act," said Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence Trustee Michael Wolkowitz. "Gun violence persists in New York largely due to the flood or illegal guns across state lines that find their way into the hands of dangerous people. We need strong federal legislation to make a meaningful dent in this problem. We urge Congress to support Senator Gillibrand's legislation -- it will save lives."
"New Yorkers Against Gun Violence applauds Senator Gillibrand and Attorney General Schneiderman for their efforts to stop trafficking and illegal sales of dangerous weapons, said Executive Director Jackie Hilly. "Communities around New York have the right to be free from gun violence. With the continual flood of illegal guns in New York, we simply cannot allow gun traffickers to ruin lives and destroy public safety. Guns are being handed over to the wrong people, and we need no further evidence than the recent investigation of the Attorney General here in New York, that more needs to be done. Senator Gillibrand's trafficking bill announced here today will increase penalties on all conspirators in trafficking organizations and allow law enforcement to close an important loophole and put an end to the terrible scourge caused by guns in the wrong hands."
The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act will:
Focus on Entire Criminal Network
First, the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act makes it illegal to traffic or assist in the trafficking of a firearm, making it unlawful to deliver or receive two or more firearms where the individual knows or has reason to believe that the firearms are being, or will be, used in a felony. By going after straw-purchasers who buy a gun for someone else to help them evade required recordkeeping and background checks, corrupt gun dealers who sell firearms to traffickers, and persons who conspire with and organize gun trafficking rings, this legislation addresses firearms trafficking at every point of the chain.
Tough Penalties for Criminals
Second, the legislation establishes stiff penalties that are a much-needed deterrent to gun trafficking. Under this bill, traffickers could face up to twenty years in prison and be fined a significant sum of money. It also provides greater penalties for kingpins who organize gun trafficking rings, subjecting them to an additional sentence of potentially five consecutive years in prison. Penalties could increase depending on the number of guns trafficked.
The bill also treats individuals engaged in a conspiracy to traffic guns the same as those who actually traffic a gun. Individuals who engage in the conspiracy are subject to the same punishment as those who physically sell and receive the illegal guns.
By creating more options and providing flexibility for prosecutors and judges, we increase the tools that are available for prosecutors in the federal criminal justice system to appropriately crack down on individuals who are engaged in every aspect of gun trafficking.
Crackdown on Corrupt Gun Dealers
Third, the Attorney General of the United States and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are empowered to impose heightened restrictions, levy tough financial penalties, and suspend or revoke the license of any corrupt gun dealer. Corrupt gun dealers will be subject to a license suspension of up to six months and a fine of up to $2,500 per violation. This is the first time that the levying of civil penalties will be widely available as a deterrent for corrupt gun dealers.
The Attorney General is given the authority to identify and impose special restrictions on high-risk gun dealers, which could include dealers who have been unable to trace guns as required by federal law or who report significant or frequent inventory losses or thefts, among other criteria.
To prevent these high-risk dealers from supplying guns to traffickers, federal law enforcement would be able to impose conditions on them such as increased inspections, inventory checks and reconciliation, training dealers and employees in how to avoid illegal sales, and requiring that the dealer not complete firearm sales until the national instant background check system informs the dealer that they may proceed with the sale.
The overwhelming majority of licensed gun dealers are responsible and law abiding. This bill goes after the very small minority of dealers who are contributing to the cycle of violence that puts our children and families at risk.
For those dealers that are suspected of corrupt practices, the legislation protects the right of due process before their licenses are revoked by the Attorney General, and also allows for gun dealers whose licenses have been revoked to seek judicial review. By putting reasonable punishments in place, this legislation would put corrupt gun dealers out of business, create deterrents to engaging in these behaviors and keep our neighborhoods safe from gun violence.
Resources for ATF
The fourth part of the bill provides ATF with the resources that it desperately needs to inspect all federally licensed gun dealers and further investigate high-risk gun dealers. Federal law currently allows ATF to conduct annual inspections of all federally licensed dealers, but with the current lack of resources and funding it would take the bureau between seven and ten years to properly inspect every licensed dealer in the country. This allows corrupt dealers to go for many years without being suspected or caught. To address this problem, the bill would authorize the Director of ATF to hire additional personnel to reduce the average inspection rate of gun dealers to three years.
Protections for Responsible, Law-Abiding Gun Owners
Finally, the legislation upholds the Constitution and protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Specifically, the bill provides a defense for an individual seller who obtains a background check on the person to whom he or she is selling prior to the sale. This serves to protect individual gun owners who make a good faith effort to ensure that they are not selling their firearm to a person who is prohibited from possessing those guns. This bill does not provide any new regulations on individuals who wish to sell or give their firearms as a gift to law-abiding family members, friends, or neighbors. It creates an incentive to conduct a background check before the gun is exchanged. It also exempts executors from prosecution under this legislation if they are carrying out the provisions of a will.