U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with state, county and regional law enforcement leaders from the Metro East area to learn about the challenges they face in their jurisdiction related to gun violence and gun trafficking and, in turn, brief them on the gun violence legislation the U.S. Senate is expected to debate next month.
"Over the last few months, as Congress has begun to debate legislation to reduce gun violence, I have met with law enforcement leaders across Illinois to hear their input," Durbin said. "The bottom line: we need to keep guns out of the hands of people who have no business owning them. I believe the legislation we will start to debate on the floor in a couple weeks will help do that, and today's meeting gave me a chance to discuss it with the law enforcement leaders who deal with gun violence on a daily basis. Gun violence continues to plague East St. Louis, and I hope Congress can pass legislation that will help make life safer in my old hometown."
When the Senate reconvenes following its Easter recess, it will begin to consider a package of gun violence bills passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month. One important piece of that legislation is the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, which Durbin crafted along with a bipartisan group of colleagues including U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). The bill aims to shut down the pipeline of illicit guns that supplies criminals and gangs by punishing and deterring straw purchasing, an all-too-common practice in which someone with a clean background purchases a gun for another who cannot buy one themselves.
Under current law, straw purchasers can only be federally prosecuted under false statement laws that are difficult to prove and carry low penalties. The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act 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.
"Time and again, I've heard from law enforcement leaders about how easily illegal guns make their way to the street," Durbin said. "Straw purchasers flaunt our nation's gun laws to help arm thugs and criminals without fear of serious consequences. This bill is a commonsense solution to that, which is why the Judiciary Committee passed it on a bipartisan vote. When the bill comes to the floor early next month, I urge my colleagues to support it."
In addition to Durbin's bill, the Senate will also consider two other pieces of gun legislation next month. One, the Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act, would require background checks for the private sale of firearms, require the report of the loss or theft of a gun within 24 hours, mandate that private sellers keep a record of firearms transactions, and penalize noncompliance with up to a year in jail. The other, the School and Campus Safety Enhancements Act, reauthorizes the U.S. Department of Justice's Secure Our Schools program, which provides grants for school security, and also creates a national center for campus public safety that would provide training and best practices to colleges and universities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Durbin sits, has held three hearings on the subject in recent weeks, including one on the Second Amendment which Durbin chaired. It then passed the three pieces of legislation now moving to the Senate floor. The committee also passed a bill to limit new assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.