In the summer of 2007, the BDN reported a story about an Alton woman meeting a man online, who introduced her to his friends. They convinced her to buy them three firearms from a Bangor pawnshop. As police soon discovered, the men actually belonged to Boston-area gangs and were planning to use the guns as part of a drug operation. They had used the woman as a “straw buyer” to purchase the guns, as the men had criminal records and were prohibited from doing so. The woman was sentenced to 18 months in prison for knowingly lying on an application to buy the guns.
Violent gun crime rates in Maine may be low, but often straw purchases are completed in the state to carry out crimes elsewhere. Between 2007 and 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced an average of 89 guns per year recovered by Massachusetts law enforcement agencies to Maine. So it makes sense that three Democratic and two Republican U.S.senators have come together to introduce legislation to better control illegal trafficking in firearms; we’re glad Maine’s senior senator is one of them.
The legislation, called the “Stop Illegal Trafficking of Firearms Act of 2013,” would make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time. And straw purchasers — those who knowingly buy a firearm on behalf of someone else — could face hefty prison sentences.
This may be a relatively painless bill to pass, particularly when considering the myriad of other calls for gun legislation. And anti-trafficking proposals have not generated much opposition from gun-rights supporters. The proposed bill represents a basic way to better try to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. The fact that Republican Sen. Susan Collins is joining the effort, along with Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, indicates the measure has a chance of passing.
“These guns are frequently sold, resold and trafficked across state lines, resulting in the proliferation of illegal firearms in our communities. Straw purchasing and gun trafficking put guns in the hands of criminals,” Collins said. They also end up fueling conflicts in other countries. In 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that about 70 percent of weapons recovered from Mexico during the previous five years — more than 64,000 — came from the United States.
Specifying new criminal offenses and penalties is, granted, a small step. But law enforcement agencies have asked for years for a better way to combat weapons trafficking. Current law does not specifically prohibit weapons trafficking or straw purchasing. Prosecutors instead rely on laws that make it illegal to make a false statement on required forms when purchasing a firearm. Giving the law more weight sends a message that straw purchasing and trafficking will not be tolerated. Stricter penalties present a more meaningful deterrent and/or a greater incentive to cooperate with police.
The bill would make it a crime to purchase a gun on behalf of others and would create a new federal firearms trafficking statute to make it illegal to ship or transfer two or more firearms to someone who was believed to be prohibited from owning them. The bill focuses on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and merits support.