NRA Demands Softer Penalties for Straw Purchasers

  • submit to reddit
Illinois gun owners and supporters fill out NRA applications while participating in an Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day convention. March 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre speaking at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, March 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

As part of its blitzkrieg against post-Newtown gun control legislation, the National Rifle Association is trying to kill the provision of the Senate bill that cracks down on gun trafficking by imposing harsher penalties for “straw purchases” — that’s when someone buys a gun for someone who is prohibited from owning one, or for someone who is intending to commit a crime with it.

There is broad bipartisan support in both chambers for the measure, which would make straw purchasing a federal crime punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The provision is a key part of the Senate’s gun control package, which may be voted on next week. A House bill making gun trafficking a federal crime has a similar provision.

But this week, the NRA is demanding that the Senate change its drafting language. The Hill reports:

If a person buys a gun and sells it to another person, who in turn sells it to yet another person, the bill’s language could be used to punish the initial buyer of the gun, the NRA says.

“It potentially holds people liable for the intention of parties far down the chain of possession,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam wrote in an email to The Hill.

The NRA also wants to change language allowing the government to confiscate a convicted straw purchaser’s guns and ammunition, according to a draft copy of the group’s proposed changes to the measure.

The NRA’s position has outraged those who support the legislation as written. Groups supporting stricter gun control laws, like Mayors Against Illegal Guns, believe cracking down on straw purchases — one of the most common ways criminals get guns — and background checks, another key component of the package, are essential parts of the new legislation.

“As long as straw purchasers are willing to buy on behalf of criminals, law enforcement needs effective tools to pursue these individuals by making this activity a federal criminal offense instead of a slap on the wrist,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), one of five Republican co-sponsors of the House bill.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), one of the original sponsors of the House bill, told The Hill, “Reports about the draft NRA proposal suggest that it would water down even current law, making it harder — not easier — for law enforcement officials to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by increasing the threshold for convicting straw purchasers.” (On Wednesday, Rep. Maloney vowed to continue the gun control fight despite death threats phoned in Tuesday to her Manhattan district office. Police are investigating.)

Meanwhile, in the wake of last summer’s shootings in Aurora, the Colorado state legislature has passed a series of bills requiring background checks for all gun purchases and limits on the size of ammunition magazines. President Obama visited there Wednesday to draw attention to the state’s new laws and put pressure on Congress to follow Colorado’s lead.

Christi Parsons of the Los Angeles Times reported that after speaking privately with families of some of the Aurora victims, “Obama held Colorado up as an example of a gun-loving state that still embraces ‘common sense’ curbs on firearm and ammunition purchases.”

The state’s new laws are a “model of what’s possible,” Obama said, praising the state’s many “proud hunters and sportsmen” who supported efforts to make it harder for ineligible buyers to get their hands on firearms.

“There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our 2nd Amendment rights,” Obama said. “I’ve got stacks of letters in my office from proud gun owners, whether they’re for sport or protection or collection, who tell me how deeply they cherish their rights and don’t want them infringed upon – but they still want us to do something to stop the epidemic of gun violence.”

Opposed to the new Colorado legislation, pro-gun lobbyist Dudley Brown said he and his allies will be going after those who supported it and shared this chilling metaphor with NPR’s Scott Horsley: “I liken it to the proverbial hunting season… We tell gun owners, ‘There’s a time to hunt deer. And the next election is the time to hunt Democrats.’”

  • submit to reddit