Proposed bill would punish gun traffickers

Proposed bill would punish gun traffickers
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 3:24am

A new bill would make it harder for Mexican drug cartels to get their hands on guns sold in the United States and would punish those buying firearms or ammunition for criminals, according to senators from both parties, who proposed the legislation.

It would also stem the flow of guns purchased legally in one state from getting into the hands of people in other states where they are not legally allowed to own them, according to a statement issued Monday by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who is one of the bill's authors.

If voted into law, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013, would slap anyone caught purchasing a firearm or ammunition with the intent of illegally transferring it to someone else with jail time and a large fine.

It comes down particularly hard on those who supply weapons to offenders who use them to commit violent crimes or drug trafficking offenses, according to the bill's authors. It also makes use of existing law to make smuggling guns out of the country a criminal offense.

The measure combines anti-trafficking elements contributed by three Democratics, Leahy, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, with elements contributed by two Republicans, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk and Maine Senator Susan Collins.

The senators from northern states, where gun laws are stricter, are appealing to their colleagues in both parties to support the legislation, to help law enforcement stop guns from being "sold and re-sold across state lines."

The senators say they formulated the bill at the behest of law enforcement officials, who want new legislation that will empower police in their fight against gun traffickers.

In the wake of skyrocketing gun crime in Chicago, police have bitterly complained about the flow of firearms there via straw purchases from other states.

Violence in the city made headlines, when honor student Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down in gang violence. She had performed as a drum majorette at an event during President Obama's second inauguration in Washington.

First lady Michelle Obama attended her funeral, and her parents sat next to her during the president's State of the Union address, when he reiterated his pledge to take action on gun crime.

Straw purchases are often made by a person assisting someone who is unable to legally buy a gun or doesn't want the weapon traced back to his name. It is currently a federal crime to knowingly purchase a firearm illegally. Those convicted face 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.

Perhaps in an appeal to fellow lawmakers adamantly opposed to gun measures, Leahy touted the proposed legislation as "consistent with the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment."

He also said the law would help prevent repeats of the deadly bungles that occurred in Arizona along the border with Mexico during Operation Fast and Furious by giving border patrollers a solid legal framework to catch smugglers with.

During Fast and Furious, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives attempted to apprehend smugglers by allowing them to purchase guns with recorded serial numbers in the Arizona and transport them towards the border with Mexico, in hopes of intercepting them.

Nearly 2,000 firearms from the program went missing, some turning up at killing scenes in Mexico -- and at the site of a December 2010 gun battle in Arizona that left U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry dead.

"I hope that those who have been concerned about Fast and Furious, whose investigation established that it was the local ATF agents in Arizona who initiated and so poorly implemented that effort, will join with us to close the loophole in the law that Mexican drug cartels are continuing to exploit," Leahy said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the measure on Thursday, said Leahy, who is the committee's chairman. At the same time, three other pieces of legislation aimed at reducing gun violence are expected to be address during Thursday's committee meeting, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein's controversial assault weapons ban. 

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