House lawmakers introduce bill to toughen penalties against “straw purchasers”

Graphic on gun trafficking. SOURCE:

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has introduced the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 to toughen criminal penalties against straw purchasers who illegally buy guns for people banned from possessing firearms, including felons and the mentally ill.

The bill is sponsored by two Republicans – Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia and Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania – and two Democrats – Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

The bill would make gun trafficking a federal felony and would increase the penalty against straw purchasers, who could face up to 20 years imprisonment, as well as organizers or managers of gun trafficking networks.

“This is [an] important legislation…because it fills a gap: the toothless penalties that were associated with gun trafficking straw purchasing created the environment in which was very, very difficult to be able to hold a straw purchaser accountable,” said Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Penn.), a former prosecutor.

According to Maloney, during the House oversight hearings on ATF’s botched “gun walking” Operation Fast and Furious, federal law enforcement officials testified that “they don’t even bother to prosecute or capture straw purchasers because the penalties are so weak.”

“It’s like a slap on the hand,” Maloney said.

Read more: Congressional report slams Justice Department & ATF for botched ‘gun walking’ operation

Cummings, who serves as the Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee, suggested that tougher penalties against straw purchasers also will give law enforcement more leverage go after leaders of gun trafficking networks, such as those that smuggle firearms from the U.S. to drug cartels in Mexico.

“It was law enforcement officials who asked for this legislation,” Cummings noted. “They begged for it because they simply wanted to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

Rigell pointed out that 4 out of 10 straw purchasers suffer “no meaningful consequence” for illegally purchasing guns under current law.

Lawmakers also cited the Christmas Eve ambush in Webster, New York as an impetus for introducing the bill.

The gunman, identified as William Spengler, 62, purposely set a house on fire and shot firefighters who responded to the scene. Two firefighters were killed and two others were wounded in the ambush.

Although Spengler, who was convicted for killing his grandmother with a hammer, was banned from possessing firearms, he was able to obtain the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle used in the shooting allegedly through his neighbor, Dawn Nguyen, who acted as a “straw purchaser.”

“Under our bill, the straw purchaser would be facing 20 years in jail. So this puts teeth behind and an enforcement behind and gives law enforcement the tools that they need to make our country safer,” said Maloney.

Rigell, who’s a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), assured that the bill would not affect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.

“The Second Amendment serves as a high and impassable wall that protects on the one side every law-abiding American’s constitutional right to own firearms, and on the other side of that wall are those who do not have a constitutional right to firearms – namely, criminals,” said Rigell. “As a lifetime member of the NRA, as a firearm owner, and as a father and really as a grandfather, I’ve got a problem with people breaking the law using firearms because it inevitably puts pressure on my rights. And I think when we punish the bad guys, we’re protecting the good guys and that’s really the essence of this bill.”

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