Bill to Curb Deadly Gun Trafficking Heads to Senate Floor


On Thursday, March 7, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee, by a strong bipartisan vote of 11 yeas to 7 nays,  approved of and sent forward to the full Senate floor with a favorable recommendation S. 54, the “Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013.”  This important legislation would make it a federal crime to serve as a “straw purchaser,” or someone who buys a firearm with the intent of selling it to an individual who cannot pass a background check. 

S. 54 is part of a package intended to curb gun violence.  This package also includes a bill which would ban the sale, transfer or manufacture of military-style assault weapons, along with high capacity ammunition clips; and legislation to require background checks for all private and commercial firearm sales.  S. 54 is now headed to the Senate floor for consideration.  Companion legislation, H.R. 452, has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Elijah Cummings (MD).  Like S. 54, H.R. 452 also has bi-partisan support.  

Some straw purchases are small: A friend or neighbor buys one or two guns for a convicted criminal, or someone with a history of mental illness or domestic abuse, who would never get through a background check. Other purchases are larger: Gun traffickers recruit buyers with clean records to assemble arsenals to sell on the black market or transfer to drug cartels.
Under current law, there is no specific statute that makes it illegal to act as a straw purchaser of firearms.  Nor is there a law which directly addresses the illegal trafficking of firearms.  As a result, prosecutors must cobble together charges against a straw purchaser using so-called “paperwork” violations such as lying on a Federal form.  These laws are imperfect, and do not give prosecutors the leverage needed to encourage straw buyers, often the lowest rungs on a ladder in a criminal enterprise, to provide the information needed for investigators and prosecutors to go after those directing and profiting from such activity.  It is because straw purchasers are key in making guns readily available to those who might use them for illegal purposes that S. 54 is endorsed by multiple law enforcement groups including the Fraternal Order of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.  This bill will further complement existing law that makes it a crime to smuggle firearms into the United States by specifically prohibiting the smuggling of firearms out of the United States.

In the three months since a shooter killed 26 children and adults in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, guns have been used to kill more than 2,500 people in the United States; and a disproportionate number of the victims of gun violence have been racial and ethnic minorities, specifically African Americans.  The leading cause of death among African American teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009 was gun related homicide.  African American children and teens accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun deaths in 2008 and 2009 but were only 15 percent of the total child population.  Black males ages 15-19 were eight times as likely as White males of the same age and two-and-a-half times as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed in a gun related homicides in 2009.  S. 54 will not put an end to the plague of gun violence, but it will put a dent in one of the most common ways illegal guns get into the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

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