House Dems push bill to make gun trafficking a federal offense

Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill on Friday that would make it a federal crime to traffic firearms across state lines with the intention of delivering them to felons or to someone planning to commit a felony.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) put forward the measure.


The bill would make it illegal for a person to receive or transfer two or more firearms while “knowing or having reasonable cause to believe” that those guns would end up in the hands of a felon or someone intending to commit a felony. The legislation details several sentencing guidelines, with a maximum penalty ranging between 20 and 25 years in prison.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a “Dear Colleague” letter Friday in support of the bill that cited the committee’s interview last week with William McMahon, deputy assistant director for field operations at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

“If you actually charge someone with actually firearms trafficking, we have never been able to do that,” said McMahon, according to Cummings’s letter. “We say it all the time, that we are locking up firearms traffickers, but really what we are locking up are people who lie on a federal form, or people who deal without a license … so I think a firearms trafficking statute would be most helpful.”

Democrats began crafting the measure after ATF agents testified during a hearing last month that the federal laws surrounding gun trafficking aren’t severe enough.

In a report issued two weeks ago by Cummings, an ATF special agent told the panel that convicted straw purchasers typically only receive probation if they are prosecuted. If the punishment were made stronger, the agent said, officials could use the threat of it to leverage more cooperation from the accused straw purchaser.

The Democratic push comes amid a congressional investigation into the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation, which authorized the sale of thousands of weapons to known and suspected straw purchasers for members of Mexican drug cartels in the hope of dismantling the trafficking routes and prosecuting those involved. But officials did not provide adequate surveillance of the guns and soon lost track of them, according to ATF testimony.

Cummings could not say whether a bill similar to the one introduced on Friday would have prevented an operation like Fast and Furious, which might have contributed to the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

The Democrats acknowledged that passing the measure would be “difficult” given the lower chamber’s Republican majority — many of whose members are backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which opposes the bill.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said he was interested in inviting the heads of the NRA to a meeting to discuss the legislation.

Firearms restrictions have been a hot topic on Capitol Hill this week, following the Obama administration’s newly implemented requirement for gun dealers in the Southwest to report multiple rifle sales.

Earlier this week, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee voted to attach an amendment to the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill that would strip funding for the policy.

The rule requires gun dealers in the Southwest states to report the sale of five or more rifles to one person over a five-day period.

This article was corrected at 5:04 to accurately reflect which ATF official was quoted in the letter from Rep. Cummings.