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Sen. Leahy Announces Bipartisan Gun Trafficking, Straw Purchasing Bill

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Gun regulation mostly has been out of the headlines in the last few weeks. In part, that’s due to sequestration, and probably to the fact we’ve managed a few weeks without another mass shooting incident (though of course the “normal” murder by guns continues). Less coverage might also be related to the fact that the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre has been less vocal, at least publicly. We’ll probably hear a bit more about the post-Newtown gun and ammunition regulation arguments this week, though, as the Senate Judiciary Committee meets on Thursday, and will take up related legislation.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced one piece of such legislation, a bipartisan bill that deals with gun trafficking and the use of “straw purchasing.” From USA Today:

… Leahy … said the bill 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.

Sponsors of the legislation include: Leahy; Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); Mark Kirk (R- IL); Dick Durbin (L); Susan Collins (R-ME); and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The bill is described as a “blend” of one introduced by Leahy, and another sponsored by Gillibrand and Kirk.

A quote from Collins:

‘The bill creates … new, specific criminal offenses for straw purchasing and the trafficking in firearms. … Instead of a slap on the wrist or treating this as if it were simply a paperwork violation, these crimes … would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison.’

The “compromise bill” is considered easier to pass than efforts at universal background checks, and it comes, according to Leahy, at the request of law enforcement. It’s one of four measures that the Judiciary Committee will consider. The other bills focus on banning particular types of assault weapons, a “school safety” measure, and expanding background checks.

Problems in voting the bills out of committee, and in passage in the full Senate, remain, largely though not entirely along the usual Red / Blue dividing line. According to Politico,

(S)ome Republican senators are trying to slow walk the proceedings by offering a slew of amendments to the Democratic gun bills.

Schumer, Manchin and Coburn have tried – unsuccessfully to this point – to reach an accord on background checks. But Coburn remains opposed to a key provision requiring private sellers to retain records, and it’s uncertain whether an agreement can be reached. …

Reportedly, Schumer will “reintroduce a background checks proposal without any GOP backers,” and the “panel is expected to approve that bill.” However,

… without the approval of Coburn and his NRA ‘A-rating’, a bill proposed by Schumer, Manchin and Kirk may not carry all the Senate’s Democrats, let alone Republicans already shaky about the idea.

Diminished media and public attention to the whole “gun control” argument — in particular, to the widespread demands for more effective regulation — probably gives some cover to senators. So while the bills may be voted out of the Judiciary Committee, full Senate votes are questionable. Back to Politico:

Without at least five Republicans senators – and facing the possibility that red-state Democrats like Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) could back the GOP leadership on a filibuster of the gun-control package – Leahy and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) face the possibility of only being able to push through relatively minor bills, such as the gun-trafficking measure.

That’s about what we can expect in terms of results — better than nothing, but not nearly good enough.

With another view, and for a bit of context, via Media Matters:

A member of the National Rifle Association Board of Directors compared states’ efforts to strengthen gun violence prevention laws to Nazi Germany on an NRA news program, suggesting that Americans are being disarmed and that ‘the death of millions’ could occur.

Ronnie Barrett, the outspoken manufacturer of a controversial armor-piercing sniper rifle and an NRA board member, made his prediction during the March 1 edition of the NRA’s Cam & Company show on Sportsman Channel … .

To the extent this is the kind of stuff helping create the hesitancy if not resistance of lawmakers — state and federal — it helps explain (not justify) why we so often end up with “better than nothing” legislation.

(Rifle photo via GunFB)

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