Earlier this week, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) unveiled a new bill to combat straw purchasing and gun trafficking that will be considered by the Judiciary Committee today.
The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 harmonizes two previously existing proposals by Gillibrand-Kirk and Leahy-Durbin into one bipartisan product. This legislation provides law enforcement officials with the tools they need to investigate and prosecute the all-too-common practices of gun trafficking and straw purchasing, where an individual buys a firearm for someone else who is prohibited from obtaining one on their own. This bill for the first time will create specific prohibitions to deter and punish the dangerous practices of straw purchasing and trafficking of firearms, and keep illegal guns off the streets and away from criminal networks and street gangs. Currently, there is no federal law that defines gun trafficking or straw purchasing as a crime.
"The absence of any federal law defining gun trafficking as a crime in this country is shocking. Cracking down on gun trafficking and keeping illegal guns off our streets to save lives is not a Republican or Democratic idea, it is just a good idea. By cracking down on straw purchasers, illegal gun traffickers and their vast criminal networks, we can stop the flow of illegal guns and reduce gun crime." -- U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
The Problem and Inadequacy of Current Law
The straw purchasing and trafficking of firearms is a major problem that results in the proliferation of illegal firearms in our communities. In New York City, 85% of the guns used in crimes come from out of state and 90% are illegal.
Under current law, there is no criminal statute specifically prohibiting straw purchasing or trafficking in firearms. Instead, prosecutors rely primarily on laws that prohibit making false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm. These are "paperwork" violations with penalties too low to be effective law enforcement tools.
Key Provisions of the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act
This bipartisan bill addresses several areas of weakness in existing gun crime statutes to give law enforcement authorities enhanced tools to investigate and prosecute straw purchasing and gun trafficking crimes. For years law enforcement has been asking Congress for more comprehensive tools to crack down on this type of criminal conduct.
The bill would establish new specific, tough Federal criminal offenses to prohibit and punish the straw purchasing of firearms. The bill would criminalize obtaining a gun from a Federal Firearm Licensee (FFL) explicitly for another person. This statute is consistent with current law that requires a person buying from an FFL to certify that they are the "actual buyer," but increases the maximum penalty for a violation to 15 years, to serve as an enhanced deterrent.
In the case of a transaction with a private dealer (non-Federal Firearm Licensee or non-FFL), this bill makes it a crime to purchase a gun for someone who the purchaser knows is prohibited from possessing a firearm. The maximum sentence for this offense would also be 15 years imprisonment. In order to protect innocent transfers that occur through private, non-FFL sales, the bill creates a higher criminal standard for private sales in order for such transfers to be considered illegal straw purchases. It is also drafted in a way to reduce paperwork burdens.
The bill creates the first federal statute to specifically criminalize gun trafficking of firearms. The bill would make it illegal to ship, transport, transfer, or otherwise dispose of 2 or more firearms to someone who is known, or is reasonably believed, to be prohibited from possessing a firearm. It also makes it illegal to receive a firearm from a seller if the recipient knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the receipt would be in violation of Federal law. The maximum sentence for these offenses would be 15 years imprisonment.
The Bill enhances penalties for those who conspire or otherwise organize gun trafficking rings and straw purchasing operations. The maximum sentence for gun trafficking kingpins is increased to 25 years recognizing the outsized role they play in proliferating gun crimes.
The Bill includes a forfeiture provision to further deter straw purchasers and gun traffickers by seizing the assets they would otherwise use to carry out additional illicit activities.
The bill strengthens existing law regarding the transfer of guns to prohibited persons, and ensures that the law prohibits the sale of guns and ammunition to people who intend to turn around and transfer them to criminals. The bill provides law enforcement with important tools to help them investigate and prosecute those who purchase and traffic guns illegally.
The Bill includes a directive to the sentencing commission to amend its guidelines related to straw purchasers and gun traffickers to reflect the intent of Congress that these are serious crimes.
The bill would criminalize smuggling firearms out of the United States to complement existing laws criminalizing the smuggling of firearms into the United States. This section also makes it a crime to conspire to traffick guns out of the US, and extends the smuggling provisions to include ammunition.
For purchases made from a licensed dealer, the bill also expressly exempts innocent transactions like gifts, and transfers that occur in raffles and auctions.
Law Enforcement Support:
The Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the FBI Agents Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, the National District Attorneys Association, the Police Executive Research Forum have all endorsed the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013. 2