Senator Insists Gun Trafficking Is Not A Problem

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

On Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to reduce gun trafficking by a vote of 11 to 7. The measure, which would “establish tough penalties for those who buy a firearm or ammunition with the intent of transferring it to a criminal or a person barred from gun ownership,” was opposed by all Republicans on the committee with the exception of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who helped craft the legislation.

While some Republicans complained that the penalties in the bill were too “tough,” and others worried that they may criminalize private purchases, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) seemed to dismiss the problem of gun trafficking altogether, describing the legislation as “a solution in search of a problem”:

CORNYN: My concern is that this bill is a solution in search of a problem. Straw purchasing for purpose of directing guns to people who cannot legally attain them is already a crime. So we double down and say this time we really mean it. When in fact the real problem, I think, in many instances, is the lack of prosecution of existing crimes by the Department of Justice. As I have said earlier and I’ll say again, I have a hard time explaining to my constituents back home how passing more laws that will go unenforced make them any safer.

Professional straw purchasers — who trade on their clean criminal record to buy guns and then resell them at a markup to dangerous felon — should be easy to catch since federal law already requires most gun purchasers to undergo criminal background checks before they can buy a firearm.

Unfortunately, that the so-called “Tiahrt Amendments” thwart such checks by requiring the Justice Department to destroy the record of any gun buyer whose purchase was approved within 24 hours. As a result, law enforcement is often blind to straw purchasers who are flooding the streets with guns right under their noses and are forced to charge straw purchasers with paperwork violations due to the absence of an appropriate law criminalizing unlicensed gun trafficking. Traffickers today face relatively light penalties under federal law — usually zero to five years of jail time. Data from federal gun trafficking investigations, however, indicates that “scofflaw gun dealers are the most important channels for diverting guns to traffickers and criminals.”

The anti-gun trafficking measure is co-sponsored by two Republicans — Sen. Susan Collins (ME) and Sen. Mark Kirk (IL) and will likely have 60 votes to pass in the senate. It would “add a new criminal penalty — up to 25 years in prison — for straw purchasers who had reason to believe the gun they bought would be used to commit a violent crime” and outlaw shipping “two or more guns across state lines to people who cannot legally buy a gun.”

“Shipping guns outside the U.S. to destinations such as Mexico for use in violent crimes also would become illegal. Current law only covers guns illegally shipped into the U.S.”