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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stopping illegal weapons trafficking could put big dent in gun violence


Gun trafficking is closely related to straw buyers.  The latter is defined as an illegal firearm purchase where the actual buyer of the gun, being unable to pass the required federal background check or desiring to not have his or her name associated with the transaction, uses a proxy buyer who can pass the required background check to purchase the firearm for him/her.  You can see a list of those prohibited to purchase a gun here.  It is illegal to sell to these people but in many cases it is even done through a small number of corrupt federal firearms dealers. 

According to the Brady Campaign, only 1 % of gun dealers account for almost 60 % of crime guns recovered by police.  But 94% of licensed dealers approached by undercover stings at gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee and Nevada sold to individuals who appeared to be criminals or straw purchasers.  34% of crime guns recovered in 1999 (last year data available, had been purchased from a new gun dealer within the last 3 years, indicating to the ATF that the guns had been trafficked.  40% of all U.S. gun sales are without background checks.

There is no federal law against buying a gun from a dealer today and selling it to someone else tomorrow.  The Federal Observer says, “Although the maximum federal penalty for participating in a straw purchase is a 10-year prison term, in practice sentencing guidelines call for only 2 to 2 1/2 years' imprisonment for someone caught providing as many as a dozen guns to a convicted felon. That's half the mandatory (5-year) minimum for possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine.”  Some gun control advocates favor limiting purchases to one handgun per month.

Continuing, “The so-called straw purchase of guns is ‘the most significant factor in gun trafficking, without any question,’ said Jack Killorin, director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' Atlanta field division.  As an example, in a straw purchase, the two shotguns and a rifle used in the 1999 Columbine High School carnage were bought by Dylan Klebold’s 18-year-old girlfriend.  Klebold was too young at age 17.  According to Bureau of Justice statistics, 40% of criminals obtain firearms from friends or family.

Sen. Kristen Killibrand introduces gun trafficking law:

From the Brady Campaign’s first report of Gun Industry Watch, Without A Trace, it exposes how the gun lobby, working with the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress, had protected corrupt gun dealers by systematically blocking the release of information identifying the gun dealers responsible for selling most of the crime guns recovered in America.  The Action Council’s Fact Sheet on gun victims provides more startling answers to why the government is so constrained in efforts to curb gun violence:

Until 2002, the ATF released aggregate crime gun trace reports to local police departments, researchers, policymakers and public safety advocates.  Then Congress voted to restrict police access to crime gun trace data and cut off public access altogether. These restrictions, known as the Tiahrt Amendments (named for the Kansas Congressman who sponsored the bill), have passed in every Department of Justice budget since 2003, despite the fact that prominent law enforcement associations oppose them as a serious threat to public safety.

The ATF, the sole government agency charged with enforcing federal gun laws, has operated without a permanent director since the Bush Administration, and operates with just 1,800 agents to monitor approximately 77,000 gun dealers. Given these constraints, it would take ATF 22 years to inspect all federally licensed gun dealers. Even if the ATF had the manpower to inspect most gun dealers, federal law limits the agency to a single unannounced inspection of a dealer in any 12-month period. Congress has made it increasingly difficult for the ATF to revoke licenses of crooked gun dealers.        

It is impossible for law enforcement to know the whereabouts of millions of firearms in circulation today because Federal law explicitly bars the ATF from establishing a database of retail firearms sales, and private gun sellers are not required to keep a paper trail of transactions. Prior to 2001, federal authorities maintained criminal background check records for up to six months. Under President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed this policy and ordered the destruction of all criminal background check records within 24 hours. Even though the General Accounting Office found that destroying these records endangers public safety, the policy remains in effect.

Thirdway.org says, “In 9 of 10 gun crimes, the gun was not used by the original purchaser.  Felons and gun runners exploit the unregulated private market—the denial rate has plummeted to 1.53% despite the fact that the background check system is far better today than 15 years ago.  And 92% of background checks are completed within minutes.”  So what’s the problem?  With the combination of universal background checks and sending people like Klebold’s girlfriend to prison for 20 years could at least put a dent in gun violence.

And now to counter this gun insanity, 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans have taken the first bipartisan step toward new gun restrictions by introducing a bill in the House of Representatives to crack down on gun trafficking to criminals.  Carolyn Maloney, New York Democrat, along with Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the other Democrat, and Republicans Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania and Scott Rigell of Virginia.  The bill would strengthen penalties on "straw purchasers," who buy guns for those who are barred by law from buying their own weapons.

Reuters quotes Cummings re. The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2012, "We have a message for our colleagues in the House.  This bill simply makes sense. Law enforcement officials have asked for it. It will make a significant difference in combating gun crime. And it will not affect the rights of a single legitimate gun owner."  I can just hear the head gun nut of the National Rifle Assn. (NRA), Wayne LaPierre, right now.  He has a message for Cummings, and promptly trots out the NRA’s clich├ęd, stagnant and tiring stand on an out-of-date 2nd Amendment.  Pathetic.

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