It’s good news that a bipartisan group of senators, including Maine’s Susan Collins, is backing a bill that would step up the pressure on illegal gun trafficking. But it would be bad news if that’s all Congress is willing to do.
The bill would toughen penalties for those who purchase a gun illegally for others, to up to 15 years, and make gun trafficking a felony. It has the support of Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and others.
The recent mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., and especially Newtown, Conn., have appalled the nation, leading many to demand that Congress take action to reduce gun violence. It is a complicated problem that requires a multifaceted response, including regulations to make it more difficult for guns to get in the wrong hands.
Under existing law, the prohibited groups include convicted felons, those convicted of domestic violence assault and people with severe mental illness. No one response would be enough to plug all the leaks in the system.
Cracking down on gun traffickers and “straw purchases,” where someone qualified to buy guns does so for another who could not pass a background check, are a good place to start. The next step is making sure that buyers in all sales, including private sales, are subject to background checks. Other efforts should be made to make sure that relevant information about potential gun buyers makes it into the national database. Many states, including Maine, have not released information regarding involuntary hospitalizations for mental illness in a timely fashion.
And something should be done about the kinds of weapons that are available on the civilian market. A common factor in many of the horrific mass shootings has been guns equipped with high-capacity magazines. Without those weapons of mass destruction, these would not be mass murders.
In her support of the gun trafficking bill, Collins said she would support measures prevent gun violence while “recognizing that denying the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens won’t change the behavior” of criminals. By that standard, Collins should support all of the proposed changes because none would violate the constitutional rights of gun owners, but they would successfully interfere with criminal access and use of firearms.
The bipartisan bill on trafficking fixes one weakness in the system, but it leaves other gaping holes. It’s a good start, but there is still much work that needs to be done.