• Leahy’s ‘straw purchase’ firearms bill clears committee
     | March 08,2013

    WASHINGTON — Breaking down largely along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 Thursday to approve a bill, sponsored by Chairman Patrick Leahy, that would outlaw the so-called straw purchase of firearms.

    The committee’s action paves the way for the legislation to come before the full Senate for debate.

    A straw purchase involves someone buying a firearm for another individual — such as a convicted felon — who would otherwise be unable to purchase it because he or she cannot pass the required background check.

    “The practice of straw purchasing firearms is undertaken for one reason: to get a gun into the hands of someone who is prohibited from having one,” said Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. “We know that many of the guns used in criminal activities are acquired through straw purchases.”

    While Leahy has strongly advocated the straw purchase proposal in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in December, he has so far largely withheld public comment on other gun control measures — such as reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban.

    On Thursday, while acknowledging “some problems” with an assault weapons bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Leahy indicated he will vote in favor of releasing the bill from committee. The panel is expected to vote early next week on Feinstein’s proposal, which would ban both assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

    “The senator from California knows that I have some problems with her overall legislation. But I am going to vote for it to get the matter out, so it’s not just before those of us in this room who get a chance to talk about it and to act on it, but the whole Senate,” Leahy said.

    Meanwhile, before the committee vote Thursday on the straw purchase measure, Leahy proposed an amendment that replaced his original bill with a plan devised by a bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. The revised bill incorporates gun trafficking legislation sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

    Nonetheless, only one Judiciary Committee Republican, ranking member Charles Grassley of Iowa, joined Leahy and nine other committee Democrats in voting to report the straw purchase measure from committee. The seven other Republicans on the panel voted against it.

    “I hope that as other senators on both sides of the aisle become more familiar with our bipartisan proposal, they will understand how it provides law enforcement with the tools they need to go after those who engage in the straw purchasing and illegal trafficking of firearms,” Leahy said in a statement this week before the committee vote.

    One of the major differences between Leahy’s original proposal and the revised bill is that it incorporates a proposal for different standards for purchases made from federal firearms licensees, who are licensed gun dealers, and a non-federal firearms licensee, which involves a private sale. Leahy’s original bill applied the same standard to both.

    Under the new legislation, all purchases made on behalf of another person from a federal firearms licensee would be illegal, while purchases on behalf of another person made from a non-federal firearms licensee would be illegal only if the purchaser knows or has reason to believe the recipient is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

    When the Judiciary Committee convenes early next week, it will resume consideration of Feinstein’s assault weapons bill and begin deliberation on two other gun control measures: a universal background check bill sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and a bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to enhance safety in schools.

    Feinstein and Boxer represent a state with a number of restrictive gun control statutes now in place, while there are few limits in Leahy’s home state on the sale and ownership of firearms.

    In 2011, California had the country’s tightest gun control laws — including universal background checks and a ban on large-capacity ammunition clips — according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that advocates for gun controls. The Brady campaign accorded California a score of 81 points, highest among the 50 states, compared with just six points for Vermont.

    Edward Donga is affiliated with Boston University Journalism Program.

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