While the bulk of political theater watchers were mesmerized by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s 12 hour filibuster challenging the nomination of John Brennan, the Senate Judiciary Committee was busy passing along its first gun control law in years.
Late last week, they approved a bill that would increase the penalties on “straw purchases” gun buyers. The law would also elevate the crime to a felony. “Straw purchases,” are the act of buying firearms for the sole purposes of selling them someone who could not pass a background check.
This law, which was part of President Obama’s recently announced gun control agenda, would be a critical weapon to fight urban gun violence.
The legislation is named after 15-year old Chicago high school student Hadiya Pendleton. Pendleton was tragically killed in January after being caught in the cross-fire during a dispute she had nothing to do with. The teen marched with her band mates from King’s College Prep at President Obama’s inauguration only two weeks prior to her death. Homicides in Chicago topped 500 last year for the first time since 2008. And Pendleton was the 42nd killing in the month of January.
“According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), straw purchasers “represent a significant overall crime and public safety problem,” the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes, adding, “When a person with a clean background intentionally buys firearms for prohibited persons, she or he thwarts the background check requirement and allows firearms to be funneled to criminals, domestic abusers and gangs.”
A 2000 ATF study linked 26,000 illegally trafficked firearms with straw purchases and found that almost half or 46% was the most common channel of illegal gun trafficking.
By a vote of 11 to 7, all the Democrats of the Senate Judiciary committee joined by Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa voted to pass along the measure to the full Senate.
The remaining Republicans on the committee would rather do nothing than do something. John Comyn of Texas said the legislation would only show that they “are doing something” but would not be effective in halting gun crimes.
“Sadly, we seem to be focused on window dressing and risk putting symbolism over substance,” Cornyn Cormyn said.
Well, Mr. Comyn, God-forbid Congress be seen doing something.
Further, legislation created to curb or slow down the flow of illegal guns into the streets would indeed at least reduce gun access, even if it would not eliminate gun crimes altogether.
The background check is so extensive that many of those who are the usual culprits to crime in the inner city would not qualify to own a gun legally.
Currently, lying on your gun purchasing application would subject the straw purchaser to a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in federal prison or subject to a variety of state laws, depending on where the purchase was made.
Turning the crime into a felony with increased penalties may not eliminate gun traffickers but it could do something to lessen the number of gun traffickers.
“”For straw purchasers, those who are going to buy guns and turn them over to the thugs and criminals, get ready. When this bill becomes law, you’re gonna deal with hard-time federal crime,” Illinois Sentaor and Bill Sponsor Dick Durbin said today. “Hard-time federal crime. Let the word on the street get out. Girlfriends, think twice. Is it worth 15 years in prison to buy that gun?”
Something is better than nothing, after all.