Much of the gun violence in large cities involves guns that were straw purchased – when an individual with a clean background buys a gun for someone who is prohibited from obtaining one – or illegally trafficked into criminals’ hands.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) has introduced an amendment that would strengthen federal criminal penalties for straw purchasers and illegal traffickers of firearms.
Much of the gun violence in large cities involves guns that were straw purchased – when an individual with a clean background buys a gun for someone who is prohibited from obtaining one – or illegally trafficked into criminals’ hands. Under the amendment, if a person straw purchases a gun or transfers a gun to someone else knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the gun will be used to commit a crime of violence, that person will face up to 15 years in federal prison.
“The cost of this violence is overwhelming – to the individuals and families involved and to our society,” Durbin said. “For the families who have lost loved ones, they now have to face that empty seat at the dinner table, and walk past that empty bedroom. It is heartbreaking.”
Video of Durbin’s statement is available here; audio is available here.
The Durbin Amendment takes a different approach than gun trafficking legislation that was introduced last year in the Senate. Instead of establishing new federal statutes as last year’s legislation did, this amendment would strengthen existing laws on the books that can be used to hold straw purchasers and gun traffickers accountable. Durbin’s amendment – which was filed to the Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 which is currently being debated on the Senate floor – would create a strong deterrent to those who supply criminals with guns.
The Durbin amendment would do the following:
Current law prohibits a straw purchaser from making a false statement on the gun sale record that a gun dealer must keep, and prohibits making a false statement intended or likely to deceive a gun dealer about any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale. Under current law, these offenses are subject to a maximum prison sentence of 5 years and 10 years, respectively. The Durbin amendment would provide for these straw purchasers to face a prison sentence of up to 15 years if the purchaser knew or had reasonable cause to believe that the gun is to be used to commit a crime of violence.
Current law also creates a 10-year maximum penalty for a person who transfers a firearm knowing that the firearm will be used to commit a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime. The Durbin amendment would increase the maximum penalty to 15 years, and would apply to a person who either knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the gun will be used to commit a crime of violence, a drug trafficking crime, or other serious offenses.
Last year, Durbin introduced The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 with Senators Pat Leahy (D-Illinois), Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). This bill aims to combat the practice of straw purchasing and illegal trafficking in firearms by establishing the first specific straw purchasing offense in federal law, and by also creating the first federal statute specifically criminalizing firearms trafficking. 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. This legislation fell short of requiring the 60 votes needed to advance in a Senate floor vote in April 2013.
The University of Chicago Crime Lab calculates that the total costs of gun violence to American society are about $100 billion per year.