Leahy introduces bill to help crack down on firearms trafficking

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced legislation to make it easier for federal law officers to crack down on firearms trafficking.

Leahy’s bill would add a new provision to the criminal code to make it illegal to purchase firearms on behalf of persons who are prohibited from owning them.

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He said the legislation would give law enforcement authorities the tools they need to prosecute illegal arms trafficking by prohibiting people from purchasing guns at the direction of criminal organizations.

Federal prosecutors now have little legal basis to file charges against gun traffickers and often must rely on technical paperwork violations to build their cases.

Under current law, people may not sell firearms if they know they might be used in a crime.

Leahy’s bill would strengthen the law by prohibiting a sale or transfer if there is “reasonable cause to believe” it might be used to abet a crime. It includes exemptions for the transfer of firearms as gifts or part of a legitimate raffle or auction.

“Law enforcement officials have complained for years that they lack the legal tools necessary to effectively combat illegal firearms trafficking,” Leahy said in a statement. “Congressional inquiry during the last Congress should have put a spotlight on the very difficult legal environment within which law enforcement officials currently operate.

“My hope is that Congress will now respond with legislation that will help law enforcement do the job more effectively,” he added.

The Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on gun violence on Jan. 30. Leahy said the session will be used to examine various proposals endorsed by colleagues, such as a renewal of the federal assault-weapons ban.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday that he wants any gun-related measures the Senate considers to come first out of the Judiciary Committee.

Reid has pledged to subject gun-violence legislation to an open amendment process, which gun-control proponents fear could water down restrictions.

An open-amendment process would allow Republicans and centrist Democrats to offer amendments loosening proposed restrictions.