GOP, Dem senators strike agreement on gun trafficking bill

A bipartisan group of senators has announced a deal to crack down on illegal trafficking and straw purchases of firearms.

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Given broad opposition to renewing the federal assault weapons ban and the lack of a bipartisan deal to expand background checks, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act has perhaps the best chance of any gun-violence measure of passing the 113th Congress.

Centrist Republican Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Susan Collins (Maine) have reached an agreement with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“These guns are frequently sold, resold and trafficked across state lines resulting in the proliferation of illegal firearms in our communities,” said Collins on the Senate floor. “Straw purchasing and gun trafficking put guns in the hands of criminals.”

The bill strengthens the law prohibiting material false statements in connection with purchasing a firearm and strengthens penalties for purchasing a gun with intent to transfer it to someone involved in violent crime or drug trafficking.

It would also outlaw illegal purchasers of firearms from smuggling weapons out of the country.

“The bill creates new specific criminal offenses for straw purchasing and the trafficking in firearms,” Collins said. “Instead of a slap on the wrist or treating this as if it were simply a paperwork violation, these crimes in our bill would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison.”

The legislation is largely based on a bill introduced earlier this year by Leahy and one Gillibrand has been working on for the past four years. It cracked down on both the sale and purchase of guns likely to be used in crimes and lowered the mens rea threshold for prosecuting offenses. Sellers and purchasers can be found guilty if they think — instead of know — the firearms will be used in crimes.

Gillibrand said she started working on the issue at the start of her Senate career after meeting with a family who lost a daughter to a stray bullet because of gang violence.

“That was such heart-breaking meeting that I was so determined to do something about gun violence in our community,” Gillibrand said. “I met with law enforcement. I met with NYPD, I met with ATF and I met with the FBI about what would actually make a difference in ending gun crime in our state.”

She said 85 percent of guns used in crimes come from out of state and 9 out of 10 are illegally purchased for sales at gun shows.

“The practice of straw purchasing is used for one thing — to put firearms into the hands of those that are prohibited by law from having them. Many are then used to further violent crimes,” Leahy said in a statement.

The Judiciary Committee will mark up the legislation on Thursday.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel, also helped shape the bill and could announce his support for it in the next few days.

“She and I have had good conversations about modifying her bill to respond to my concerns and I’ve had discussions with her as we’ve been voting on the Senate floor on other legislation and I find that she’s very satisfied with suggestions that we’ve made,” Grassley said of conversations he had with Gillibrand about the bill.

This story was last updated at 9:50 p.m.