04.09.13

Leahy: Senators Should Support Measure To Fight Gun Trafficking Crimes

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Tuesday called on the Senate to support legislation that would explicitly make illegal the abusive practice of straw purchasing and trafficking of firearms.

The bipartisan Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act would assist law enforcement officers fighting gun crimes. It goes after gun traffickers and closes a gaping loophole to background checks by also penalizing straw purchasers, who buy firearms for another person who is prohibited from obtaining one on his own. A straw purchaser would face up to 25 years in prison under the bill authored by Leahy and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“It was an ATF whistleblower who testified last Congress that the existing firearms laws are ‘toothless,’” Leahy said.  “We can create better law enforcement tools and that is what we are doing with the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act.  I urge all Senators to join with us to close this dangerous loophole in the law that Mexican drug cartels, gangs and other criminals have exploited for too long.” 

Since the beginning of the 113th Congress, and in the months since the tragedy in Newtown, the Judiciary Committee held three hearings and four mark ups focused on the issue of gun violence, reporting out four legislative proposals including two with bipartisan support. The Leahy-Collins gun trafficking proposal was the first of those bills to be reported out of the Judiciary Committee, and it is part of a broader legislative package the Majority Leader is seeking to advance on the floor. Several Republicans, however, have vowed to block the package. Leahy called on Senators to support a full debate on the legislative package before the Senate today.

“Americans are looking to us for solutions and for action, not sloganeering, demagoguery, or partisanship,” Leahy said.  “That is why it is particularly disappointing to hear that some Senators are pledging to prevent Senate consideration of these legislative proposals by filibustering. It is especially disappointing that some who claim to support regular order and a transparent legislative process accord that process no deference.”

 

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Gun Violence Legislation
April 9, 2013

Four months after that horrific day in Newtown, where 20 children and 6 educators were senselessly murdered, the Senate is poised to make further progress toward the goal of reducing gun violence.  It is a goal that all Americans, regardless of political party, should share. 

I want to thank our Ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley, for working with us and supporting two of the measures favorably reported by the Judiciary Committee last month. I commend Senator Collins who has been my partner as we have moved forward with legislation to combat illegal gun trafficking and straw purchasers who obtain firearms to provide them to criminals and gangs.  We have been joined in that bipartisan effort by Senators Durbin, Gillibrand, Kirk, Klobuchar, Franken, Blumenthal, Shaheen and King.  

Our bill is intended to give law enforcement better and more effective tools.  A bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee voted for the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, S.54, and its provisions are included in the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act, S.649, that Majority Leader Reid placed on the Senate calendar just before the last recess and on which he has now moved to proceed. 

Straw purchasers circumvent the purposes of the background check system.  Straw purchasing firearms is undertaken for one reason—to get a gun into the hands of someone who is legally prohibited from having one.  We know that many guns used in criminal activities are acquired through straw purchases.   It was a straw purchaser who enabled the brutal murders of two brave firefighters in Webster, New York this past Christmas Eve, and it was a straw purchaser who provided firearms to an individual who murdered a police officer in Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania, last September. 

We need a meaningful solution to this serious problem.  We also include suggestions from Senator Gillibrand to go after those who traffic in firearms by wrongfully obtaining two or more firearms.  We worked hard to develop effective, targeted legislation that will help combat a serious problem and that will do no harm to the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.  

It was an ATF whistleblower who testified last Congress that the existing firearms laws are “toothless.”  We can create better law enforcement tools and that is what we are doing with the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act.  I urge all Senators to join with us to close this dangerous loophole in the law that Mexican drug cartels, gangs and other criminals have exploited for too long. 

I especially want to recognize the dedication and leadership of Senator Collins to confront the issue of gun violence.  Although not a member of the Judiciary Committee, she has been committed to finding common sense solutions to the problem of gun violence.  Senator Collins has been dedicated in working with me to address the concerns of other Senators.  She and I share a deep respect for the Second Amendment, but we also agree that our laws can be improved to give law enforcement officials the tools that they need to help curtail gun violence.  She has been a steadfast partner. 

Our bill protects Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners, while cracking down on criminals and those who would assist them.  The bill does not create a national firearms registry, nor does it place any additional burdens on law-abiding gun owners or purchasers.  It sends a clear message that those who would buy a gun on behalf of a criminal, a member of a drug cartel, or a domestic abuser will be held accountable.  That is why our bill is strongly supported by law enforcement. 

Some have expressed frustration about the level of prosecutions under existing gun laws.  And some have suggested that instead of making sensible changes to our public safety laws to prevent gun violence, Federal law enforcement officials should focus exclusively on existing laws.  I share some of that frustration, but I do not agree it is a valid excuse for us to do nothing.  Improvements in the enforcement of existing laws and efforts to give law enforcement officials better tools to do their jobs are not mutually exclusive, those efforts complement each other. 

A recent article in The Washington Times documented that gun prosecutions were in decline beginning in the Bush administration, and suggests that having a Senate-confirmed director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives would significantly help law enforcement. I ask that a copy of the article be included in the Record at the conclusion of my statement.

As I said in January, Americans are looking to us for solutions and for action, not sloganeering, demagoguery, or partisanship.  That is why it is particularly disappointing to hear that some Senators are pledging to prevent Senate consideration of these legislative proposals by filibustering. It is especially disappointing that some who claim to support regular order and a transparent legislative process accord that process no deference.  The Judiciary Committee held three public hearings and four public markups on this legislation.  It gave them full and fair consideration.  We debated and considered amendments.  What a filibuster would do now is obstruct the open process of Senate consideration of gun violence prevention legislation. That is wrong.  

I have worked with Senator Collins and others to provide a real world, common sense solution to the problem of gun trafficking and straw purchasing.  That is the course I urge the Senate to take.  We need to proceed to the bill and do what is best for the American people.  

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