Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutionsby Senator Susan M. Collins
Posted on 2013-03-04
COLLINS. Mr. President, let me begin my remarks by thanking the
distinguished chairman of the Judiciary Committee for his very gracious
comments and for his extraordinary leadership on a bill that I believe
can bring all of us together.
I also want to thank our other cosponsors of the bill, particularly Senator Gillibrand, who has had a great interest in cracking down on the practice of straw purchasing.
The practice of straw purchasing is intended to achieve one result-- to put a gun in the hands of a criminal. These individuals are easily exploiting currently weak Federal laws to obtain guns.
Peter Forcelli, ATF Supervisory Special Agent and Fast and Furious whistleblower, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in June of 2011 that: ``Some people view [the current penalties for straw purchasing] as no more consequential than doing 65 in a 55 zone.'' These guns are frequently sold, resold, and trafficked across State lines, resulting in the proliferation of illegal firearms in our communities. This has also fueled the violence across our southern border associated with Mexican drug cartels as well as gang violence in our cities.
Straw purchasing and gun trafficking put guns in the hands of criminals. According to the ATF, of the nearly 94,000 firearms that have been recovered in Mexico in the last 5 years, more than 64,000 were sourced to the United States. Similarly, a large percentage of the guns used in crimes in our largest cities were trafficked across State lines.
The congressional inquiry into the ATF's Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious investigations revealed how difficult it is for law enforcement officials to deter and punish these crimes effectively.
Current loopholes in Federal law make preventing and prosecuting these offenses very difficult for law enforcement officials. Right now, a straw purchaser can only be prosecuted for lying on a Federal form, which is treated as a paperwork violation.
Because straw purchasers by definition are nonprohibited persons and can lawfully purchase a firearm, prosecuting these individuals is difficult and any potential punishment is likely to be minimal.
Because of these weak laws, prosecutors have minimal leverage over straw purchasers who, in turn, have little incentive to cooperate and assist law enforcement in investigating trafficking crimes and crimes involving gun violence. For years, law enforcement has been asking Congress for better tools to crack down on this type of criminal conduct.
It is time to give law enforcement the tools it needs to combat this activity effectively.
Our bill reflects a combination of advice from law enforcement officials and leadership by many Senators. It gives law enforcement officials the comprehensive framework they have been seeking from Congress.
First, the bill creates new, specific criminal offenses for straw purchasing and trafficking in firearms. Instead of a slap on the wrist, these crimes would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
The proposal also increases the punishment for an individual who serves as [[Page S1092]] an organizer of a straw purchasing or trafficking enterprise.
This bipartisan bill also strengthens existing laws that make it unlawful to smuggle guns into the United States.
The bill protects legitimate private sales and is drafted to avoid sweeping in innocent transactions and placing unnecessary burdens on lawful private sales.
When buying from a private seller, the buyer is only in violation of the new straw purchasing prohibition if the buyer purchases a firearm for someone known to the buyer as a prohibited person, meaning a felon, drug addict, someone subject to a domestic violence order, or someone with serious mental illness.
When buying from a federally licensed firearms dealer, it is prohibited to buy a firearm on behalf of or for another person. This is consistent with current law that requires a person buying from a dealer to certify that they are the ``actual buyer.'' It is important to note, however, that the bill also expressly exempts transactions like gifts and transfers that occur in raffles and auctions.
The bill is supported by numerous organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the FBI Agents Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, the National District Attorneys Association, and the Police Executive Research Forum.
This bill helps to keep guns out of the hands of criminals without infringing in any way upon the second amendment right of law-abiding citizens.
I urge my colleagues to support this much needed legislation.
I am, again, very pleased to have been able to work under the leadership of the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I am delighted he is going to proceed to mark up our bipartisan compromise this week, and I thank him for the opportunity to work with him.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New York.