U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer today urged Vice President Joseph Biden to include two important measures in his task force's final recommendations to combat gun violence, set to be released this month -- a measure to prevent scores of illegal guns from being trafficked into New York, and a measure to make it harder for felons and the mentally ill from purchasing guns. V.P. Biden is leading the Obama administration's efforts examining ways to reduce gun violence, in response to the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults.
The first is a federal measure, authored by Gillibrand and cosponsored by Schumer, aimed to stop the flow of illegal guns into New York and communities across the nation. Illegal guns are devastating New York communities; 85 percent of the firearms used in gun crimes in New York City come from out of state, and 90 percent of these guns are estimated to be illegal. The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 would empower local, state, and federal law enforcement to investigate and prosecute gun traffickers and their entire criminal networks, while protecting responsible, law-abiding gun owners.
Currently, there is no federal law that defines gun trafficking in this country. While local law enforcement agencies work to track down illegal weapons, federal law still restricts localities' ability to investigate and prosecute those who traffic these firearms. Gillibrand and Schumer are also supporters of common-sense measures to reduce gun violence, including closing the gun show loophole, eliminating access to high-capacity ammunition clips made for our military, and banning military-style assault weapons that have no recreational sports use.
Gillibrand and Schumer also urged Vice President Biden to move forward with the Fix Gun Checks Act which aims to combat the nation's broken gun background check system. The legislation includes a two-step process. First, the bill would require states and the federal government to send all necessary records on felons, drug abusers, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the FBI-run system for background checks on gun buyers. This step will close various loopholes to ensure that more names of people who are federally prohibited from having guns are included in the NICS. Second, the bill requires that every gun buyer, with reasonable exceptions, must pass an instant background check. Currently, licensed dealers are required to conduct checks under the existing Brady Law. Penalties for noncompliance will be the same as those under the current Brady Law - up to a year in jail for any knowing violation of the law.
"Congress has ducked a serious national debate over common-sense gun laws for too long. We have an obligation to act and prevent tomorrow's senseless deaths by coming together and ensuring that guns stay out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill," said Senator Gillibrand. "By cracking down on illegal gun traffickers and their vast criminal networks, we can reduce gun violence and keep our children and families safe. As a mother and a lawmaker, I will not allow these tragedies and gun violence-related deaths, to go unanswered. It is time to demand real solutions and give law enforcement the tools they need to eliminate illegal guns from the street and keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."
"As we saw vividly on Thursday night when three New York City police officers were shot, illegal guns imported from outside our city continue to cause destruction," said Senator Schumer. "We have to make sure that the mentally handicapped and violent criminals are not able to purchase weapons, and that those who traffic in illegal weapons are tracked down, caught, and punished."
"New York City has some of the toughest gun laws and enforcement in the country, but until Washington follows suit, illegal guns will keep finding their way into the wrong hands and onto our streets," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "More than 80 percent of gun owners believe that if you want to buy a gun, you should pass an instant criminal background check - no matter who you are or where you buy. That is common sense, but it won't be the law of the land until Congress passes The Fix Gun Checks Act. We also need a federal law that makes gun trafficking a felony with tough penalties. Right now, 85 percent of the guns police recover at crime scenes were first sold in another state. That includes the guns criminals used to shoot three of our police officers this week. These are national problems that requires national solutions, and I thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for working to keep illegal guns out of our communities."
"The American people know that we are better than a nation with mass shootings in schools, and movie theaters, and places of worship, and more than 10,000 gun murders every year," said Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "We applaud the leadership of Senators Gillibrand and Schumer for showing us that they know it too, and for their deep commitment to making this the safer nation we all want and deserve. In turn, we at Brady are committed to doing everything we can to bring to bear the voice of the American public to support efforts like these, and the Vice President's Task Force, to bring about the real and lasting change that is too long overdue."
"Today New Yorkers Against Gun Violence joins Senators Gillibrand and Schumer in urging Vice President Biden to include two critical pieces of legislation in his recommendations to President Obama. Every day illegally trafficked guns arrive in New York communities killing and injuring innocent people," said Jackie Hilly, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "A strong federal law like the one proposed today will give law enforcement the authority to investigate and apprehend all members of the criminal trafficking enterprises and bring them to justice. It is an important step toward making our streets safe for families and children. We also commend the Senators for introducing the Fix Gun Checks bill to help prevent felons and the mentally ill from obtaining guns in the first place. We have seen all too clearly that guns in the wrong hands can devastate schools, communities and indeed our country. We need to keep our country safe by passing sensible gun laws."
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.
The Fix Gun Checks Act will:
Get all the Names of Prohibited Purchasers into the Background Check System
This section of bill will close various loopholes to ensure that more names of people who are federally prohibited from having guns are included in NICS.
State reporting: The bipartisan NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-180) established penalties for states not in compliance with reporting requirements for persons federally prohibited from possessing firearms. The Fix Gun Checks Act of 2012 shortens the deadlines for this compliance, and limits the authority of the Attorney General to waive such penalties in future years. This bill does not establish any new penalties on the states.
Federal reporting: The bill requires every federal agency to certify to the Attorney General twice a year that all relevant records have been submitted to NICS.
Federal court reporting: The bill clarifies that federal courts must report to NICS the names of people sent to diversionary programs who qualify as prohibited gun purchasers.
Clarifies the definition of "adjudicated mentally ill": The bill clarifies that people who are ordered by a court to get outpatient treatment for mental illness are prohibited from having guns.
Require Background Checks for All Firearm Sales
This section of the bill requires background checks for the sale or transfer of all firearms by private sellers.
Background check requirement: Requires background checks for sale or transfer of all firearms from one private party (i.e. a person who is not federally licensed) to another. Private sellers would need to visit a licensed firearms dealer to run the necessary background check before the gun sale is finalized. People who possess qualifying gun permits may display their permits in lieu of a background check. Sellers in very rural areas will be exempt from the bill.
Establishes exceptions: Establishes reasonable exceptions that would exempt certain gun transfers from background check requirements, including temporarily loaning firearms during hunting and sporting events, providing firearms as gifts to immediate family members, transferring a firearm as part of an inheritance, or temporarily transferring a firearm for immediate self-defense.
Penalties for noncompliance: Applies the same penalties for violations that apply to licensed dealers who violate the current Brady Law -- up to a year in jail for any knowing violation of the law.
The full letter sent to Vice President Biden today from Gillibrand and Schumer is below.
The Honorable Joseph Biden
Old Executive Office Building
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Mr. Vice President,
Thank you for your leadership in developing a critically important and necessary plan to address the problem of gun violence in America. In the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, which took the lives of 20 precious children and 6 brave adults, we agree that we must work together to finally put an end to this type of senseless violence.
Gun violence became very personal to us when our friend and colleague, Rep. Gabby Giffords, was nearly killed at the hands of a mentally ill gunman while conducting the same type of constituent-greeting event we have done dozens of times in our own careers. Moreover, in our home state of New York, we have seen too many parents' lives shattered, including the parents of slain 17-year old Nyasia Pryear-Yard, a straight-A student on the verge of attending college before being gunned down in Brooklyn, New York. As parents ourselves, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown hit extremely close to home.
As you move forward on developing recommendations with the newly formed Interagency Task Force to Reduce Gun Violence, we urge you to consider both the role that illegal guns play in gun crimes committed across America and the failures of the current federal background check system in preventing illegal gun sales. Every day, illegal guns flow into cities around the country. In New York City, 85% of the guns used in gun crimes come from out of state, and 90% of these guns are estimated to be illegal. Yet while local law enforcement agencies work overtime to track down these weapons, federal law still restricts their ability to investigate and prosecute those who traffic these firearms. The absence of any federal law defining gun trafficking in this country is shocking. We have thousands of laws, but effectively none of them are directly focused on preventing someone in Virginia from driving to New York City to sell a cache of guns.
We are also deeply troubled that approximately 40% of guns, many of which are later trafficked, are purchased through the "Gun Show Loophole," by which the buyer can avoid submitting to a background check. While the majority of Americans believe that law-abiding Americans have a constitutional right to buy a gun, they also believe that each of these citizens should undergo a background check. As you know, these checks are completed in seconds and do not prevent the legal sale of guns. However, effective checks would stop mentally ill, felons, and other prohibited persons from buying guns and potentially using these guns to harm other Americans.
It is our goal in the next Congress to move forward on the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act and the Fix Gun Checks Act that we have each respectively authored while working closely with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. These are common sense pieces of legislation that allow all levels of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute the illegal sale of guns, while protecting the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.
Mr. Vice President, we stand firmly with President Obama's call to action for a comprehensive approach that refuses to accept gun violence as routine. As you convene this task force, we ask that you make gun trafficking and strengthened background checks an important part of your discussion. We have introduced bills that will help reduce gun violence and we are ready and willing to work with this task force to stem the flow of illegal guns into our communities.