WASHINGTON – Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is part of a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation Monday to give police and federal prosecutors more tools to fight gun trafficking and illegal “straw purchases” of firearms.
Co-sponsored by three Democrats and two Republicans, the bill would create the first federal definition for gun trafficking and set stiff penalties for people who buy guns for others who cannot legally possess firearms.
It would also make it a crime to traffic guns bought in the U.S. to other countries, in an apparent attempt to stem the flow of firearms that’s fueling the bloody drug wars in Mexico.
A political divide remains in Congress over proposals to ban assault weapons, restrict ammunition magazine sizes and institute universal background checks. But lawmakers on both sides of the gun control debate have called for stronger laws to combat gun trafficking.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Senate committee that’s handling gun bills, and Collins introduced the bill on the Senate floor Monday evening. The other co-sponsors are Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, both of Illinois.
Collins said in her floor remarks that the legislation – which is a composite of two earlier proposals by Leahy and Gillibrand – would impose penalties of as much as 25 years in prison for the crimes, rather than treating them like “paperwork violations.” She said the bill would do so without “unnecessary burdens on lawful private sales.”
As a moderate Republican who represents a gun-friendly state, Collins has been under pressure from both sides in the gun debate that flared up after December’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The National Rifle Association — which most recently gave Collins a mediocre C+ rating — and gun control advocates have targeted her with ads in Maine.
Gun trafficking and straw purchases have been problems in Maine, due in part to the state’s thriving but largely unregulated private marketplace. Unlike guns sold by licensed firearms dealers, guns sold privately in Maine can change hands without criminal background checks on buyers.
Police in Massachusetts have traced guns used in crimes to gun trafficking rings with straw purchasers in Maine. Gun control groups and some prosecutors say that guns from Maine and other states are fueling violence in Massachusetts, which has one of the nation’s toughest gun laws.
The bill introduced Monday would impose much stiffer prison time for people who lie on background check forms while buying guns for others.
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