U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) today announced that the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, a bipartisan bill they co-sponsored to crack down on the straw purchasing and trafficking of guns, has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and will now advance to the full Senate. The bill, which was voted out of committee with bipartisan support, is the first measure aimed at reducing gun violence to advance out of the Judiciary Committee this year.
"With more than 115,000 gang members in the metropolitan Chicago area, we have more gang members who terrorize our residents than any other city in the United States," Kirk said. "Gangs like the Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples and the Latin Kings are responsible for nearly 80 percent of the city's homicides. My new video highlights the devastation caused by one gang in particular, the Gangster Disciples. The legislation passed by the Judiciary Committee yesterday incorporates the Kirk-Gillibrand anti-trafficking bill and, for the first time, makes the illegal trafficking of guns a federal crime. By taking steps to dry up the flow of illegal weapons to dangerous drug gangs, it is my hope that we will make our neighborhoods safer without compromising the rights of law-abiding gun owners."
"Yesterday the United States Senate took an important step when it comes to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals," Durbin said. "Gang and gun crime in the Chicago area is fueled by weapons that have been straw purchased and trafficked into the wrong hands. Senator Kirk and I have worked with a bipartisan group of our colleagues to craft legislation that creates tough federal penalties to punish and deter this conduct. Too many families in Chicago and across the nation have suffered because of senseless gun crime, and I'm glad that the Senate is moving forward with legislation to prevent it."
"I want to thank Senators Durbin and Kirk for their great efforts on this bipartisan piece of legislation," said Garry F. McCarthy, Superintendent of Chicago Police. "The pace at which we are removing guns from our communities points to the need for us all to stand together in support of common sense gun legislation, like this bill, to keep our City safe."
The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 gives law enforcement officials the tools they need to investigate and prosecute individuals who take advantage of their clean backgrounds to purchase guns for others who are unable to buy them, an all-too-common practice known as straw purchasing. Under current law, straw purchasers can only be federally prosecuted under false statement laws that are difficult to prove and carry low penalties. The Senators' bill establishes the first specific straw purchasing offense in federal law, threatening up to 15-year prison sentences for straw purchasers that can increase to 25 years if the straw purchaser knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the gun will be used to commit a crime of violence. The bill also creates the first federal statute specifically criminalizing firearms trafficking, setting a penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment when a person transports or transfers guns to another person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the transferee's possession of the gun would violate federal law. The trafficking penalty can increase to 25 years if the trafficker is a leader of an organized gang.
The bill also toughens penalties for those who possess firearms in violation of existing law or who sell firearms to those prohibited purchasers, and complements existing law that prohibits smuggling guns into the United States by also making it a crime to smuggle firearms out of the United States.
A key portion of the legislation -- the section establishing federal offenses for straw purchasing and illegal gun trafficking -- is named after Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old honor student who was shot and killed by gang gunfire in Chicago in January. This section of the bill aims to shut down the pipeline of illicit guns that arms gangs and fuels gun violence in cities like Chicago. Last year, there were 506 murders in Chicago, 435 of which were caused by guns. Police officials have repeatedly pointed to the easy availability of firearms through straw purchasers as a driving force behind last year's increase in violence. Chicago police confiscated 7,400 guns in 2012, almost twice as many as were taken in New York City, whose population is nearly triple Chicago's. More than a quarter of the guns seized in the past five years were purchased in the Cook County suburbs, with more than 1,300 coming from Chuck's Gun Shop in Riverdale.
The bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of Senators including Kirk and Durbin, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). It combines straw purchasing legislation Durbin introduced with Leahy earlier this year with an anti-trafficking bill introduced by Kirk and Kirsten Gillibrand. The new bill was adopted in committee and will now be reported to the full Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee will continue considering other gun violence prevention legislation into next week, and when the Committee has completed its deliberations the Senate is expected to prepare a legislative package including the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act for floor consideration.
"Several weeks ago I met with Superintendent McCarthy, Sheriff Dart and other law enforcement officials who shared their concerns about straw purchasing and gun trafficking. This is a balanced bill that gives the men and women who put their lives on the line every day the ability to push back against those who sidestep the rules when it comes to gun purchasing and ownership," Durbin said. "This is a real and pressing problem, and there is bipartisan interest in solving it. I want to especially recognize Senator Kirk, who has been a leader on this issue and is working across the aisle to solve this real and urgent problem."
Durbin was joined at the news conference by Sandra Wortham, the sister of Chicago Police Officer and Iraq War veteran Thomas Wortham IV, who was shot and killed by gang members in front of his parents' house in Chicago in 2010. The gun used to kill Officer Wortham was straw purchased in Mississippi and subsequently trafficked to Chicago. Durbin was also joined by Cleo Cowley-Pendleton, Hadiya Pendleton's mother.
Last month, Durbin chaired a hearing in his Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on the Second Amendment and how straw purchasing legislation and other proposals to reduce gun violence are both constitutional and common sense. Sandra Wortham testified at the hearing and Cleo Cowley-Pendleton was in attendance.