Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a former federal prosecutor and Member of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, introduced the Straw Purchaser Penalty Enhancement Act, which would create a new two-year sentence for certain "straw purchasers" of firearms. Straw purchasers in the United States are responsible for many of the illegal firearm transfers to the Mexican drug cartels. Current federal penalties have provided prosecutors with little leverage in their efforts to tackle gang and cartel violence. Schiff's legislation would provide prosecutors with a new tool to go after the gangs and drug cartels and the gun smugglers that arm them.
"During my time as a federal prosecutor, I learned that one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal was the ability to "roll' lower-level offenders to get at those who were higher up and the most responsible for gun violence," said Schiff. "The laws currently on the books targeting straw purchasers of firearms don't treat it as anything other than a paperwork violation. We need to crack down on those who are buying weapons with the express purpose of providing them to those who can't pass a background check. Straw purchasing is not a "paperwork' violation -- it's a serious crime that has led to a horrendous increase in criminal access to firearms."
During his press conference last week, President Obama called for stronger penalties for straw purchasers, remarking: "Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this."
Schiff's legislation would create a new two year penalty for a straw purchaser who intentionally deceives a gun dealer about the true identity of the gun's purchaser. The sentence would be in addition to the penalty under existing law. The bill also requires that gun purchasers be notified when they buy a gun that lying about the true purchaser of a gun is a serious offense. Schiff also made modifications to the version he introduced last Congress with the inclusion of a "Safe Harbor" provision that allows judges to reduce sentences for a narrow category of defendants.
Groups from across the ideological spectrum have called for enhanced laws to prosecute gun trafficking, including Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.