Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., 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.(Photo: Susan Walsh, AP)
(USA TODAY) -- A bipartisan group of senators signed onto legislation that would strengthen gun trafficking and straw purchasing laws by making both federal crimes, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy announced Monday.
"The practice of straw purchasing is used for one thing - to put firearms into the hands of those that are prohibited by law from having them. Many are then used to further violent crimes," Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement.
The bill will not only punish someone who acts as the straw purchaser - an individual who purchases a firearm for a person who is barred from owning one -it also will punish sellers who have a "'reasonable cause to believe the firearm will be used in criminal activity," Leahy said.
The bill is largely a blend of two existing bills on the issue, one introduced by Leahy and a similar measure authored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois.
Other co-sponsors include Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Collins said in a statement on the Senate floor that the current loopholes in federal laws make it "very difficult" for law enforcement to prevent and prosecute trafficking violations.
"The bill creates ... new, specific criminal offenses for straw purchasing and the trafficking in firearms," Collins said. "Instead of a slap on the wrist or treating this as if it were simply a paperwork violation, these crimes, under our bill, would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison."
The bill also strengthens laws against making "material false statements" when purchasing a firearm and expands current trafficking laws to make it a crime for "an individual to smuggle firearms out of the United States," according to a statement from Gillibrand's office.
Both Leahy and Collins noted Monday that the bill would not affect lawful gun purchases.
"Our bill is drafted at the request of law enforcement to give needed tools to fight against the drug cartels (and) other criminals who threaten our communities," Leahy said. "We have an obligation to find solutions to reduce gun violence."
The compromise bill is one of four that will be voted on this week when the Judiciary Committee convenes on Thursday. The three additional measures that are also expected to receive votes in the committee this week include a ban on certain types of assault weapons, a bill to improve school safety and a bill to expand background checks to nearly every gun purchase.
The details of the background check bill are still being hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators.
Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer, N.Y., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have been negotiating for weeks with Kirk and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to extend background checks.