Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns regarding gun control legislation. I am grateful for the opportunity to hear the concerns of Iowans.
I understand you have concerns with S. 54, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013, that was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 7 as amended. I too, shared your concerns with the original bill that Senator Leahy introduced. I expressed those concerns to Chairman Leahy before the Judiciary Committee meeting.
One of the concerns I raised with the original bill would have made it a federal crime to transport two or more guns if that person knew that the result would be a violation of state or local law. It would have created for the first time a situation in which violation of a state criminal law was an element of a federal offense. The legislation that was reported out of committee on March 7 eliminated all references to state and local laws. In addition, it does not contain provisions pertaining to mental health examination.
Other changes that were made to the bill at my urging were to clarify that intent is necessary to commit the crime, change the gift exception, and harmonize the bill’s various penalties. Compared to when S. 54 was originally introduced, it is now directed only at illegal straw purchasers, not all transfers on behalf of another. This allows people to buy for people as part of a legitimate business, or legal private sales.
These changes protect the rights of law-abiding citizens, in ways that were not protected in the original legislation.
Additionally I submitted an amendment to S. 54 that was adopted by the committee. My amendment requires the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, or Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division to sign off on law enforcement operations where Federal Firearm Licensees (FLL) are directed or enticed into selling firearms to individuals the Justice Department believes are purchasing guns on behalf of another for illegal purposes. The amendment also required that in these instances, the Justice Department have a plan that includes sufficient safeguards to prevent firearms from being transferred to third parties without reasonable steps for law enforcement to interdict the firearms.
This amendment is a direct response to the Department’s failed operation Fast and Furious. We all know the fatally flawed operation allowed nearly 2,000 firearms to fall in to the hands of criminals and the drug cartels. Some of these weapons have been found at crime scenes, including at the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Unfortunately, these firearms will continue to surface at crime scenes for years to come and will take the lives of countless individuals. Fast and Furious is a black mark on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and the Justice Department for decades.
While investigating, we learned that the tactics used by ATF in this flawed operation were disclosed to the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division as part of wiretap applications. Those applications contained a detailed description of these flawed tactics of letting guns walk from gun dealers, into the hands of known or suspected straw purchasers. My amendment will ensure better oversight by requiring explicit written authorization for these types of tactics.
While working on the investigation of Fast and Furious, several whistleblowers expressed their concern of the gap in the federal criminal code to enforce gun trafficking. I have a strong belief in law abiding Americans’ Constitutional right to possess firearms. However, it is important that people who have forfeited their right with criminal acts and violence not be allowed to possess firearms.
S. 54, as reported out of the Judiciary Committee, would amend the United States Code to make it a federal offense to knowingly purchase a firearm for, on behalf of, or with intent to transfer it to any person who is prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm. The prohibition shall not apply to any firearm that is legally purchased by a person to be given as a gift or to be given to a winner of an auction, raffle, or contest that is in compliance with federal laws.
The bill only applies to people whose conduct is already illegal under current law. It has no effect on anyone who obeys existing laws and no effect on their Second Amendment rights. Section 922(d) of Title 18 of the United States Code already makes it a federal criminal offense “for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or have reasonable cause to believe that such person” falls within one of nine categories of people who are prohibited from owning guns. Under current law, the person who provides the gun to the prohibited person must “know or have reasonable cause to believe” the person is a prohibited person. Currently, section 922(g) provides that it is unlawful for the same group of prohibited people to ship, transport, or possess a firearm or ammunition. Nothing in S.54 changes that existing legal standard.
On trafficking, the bill provides that if someone provides two or more guns (currently, it is one) to someone they “know or ha[ve] reasonable cause to believe” is a prohibited person under federal law, they commit gun trafficking. Similarly, if a person prohibited under federal law receives two or more guns, “knowing or hav[ing] reason to know” that the receipt of the guns violates federal law, they commit the crime of gun trafficking. Thus, the bill simply raises the penalties for already prohibited transfers and receipts where more than one gun is involved.
The straw purchasing part of the bill also tracks current law. Section 922(c) of Title 18 currently prohibits a licensed firearms dealer from selling a “firearm to a person who does not appear in person at the licensee’s business premises….” And the bill provides that a person cannot knowingly purchase or attempt to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer on behalf of another person, that is, for someone who does not appear in person at the dealer.
The straw purchasing part of the bill that applies to private sales also tracks current law. The bill prohibits straw purchases by people with clean records on behalf of people who are already prohibited from owning guns under federal law. The sale must be made “knowing or having reasonable cause to believe” the person is prohibited, which is the same standard as current law. The bill does add one new category of prohibited person, selling to a person who intends to use or sell the gun in furtherance of a violent crime or a drug crime, or who intends to sell the gun to another prohibited person. That is what straw purchasing is, and only criminals, not law-abiding gun owners, engage in it. Again, the bill contains no provisions at all on the subject of mental health examinations.
Some of my colleagues still believe the bill needs more work to resolve outstanding issues between now and when the bill goes to the floor. That is something I hope will happen. I expressly conditioned my vote to allow the bill to proceed to the floor on assurances that work would continue on the bill. By reporting the legislation out of committee we can have the opportunity to have a larger debate and address concerns with the bill. I will not vote on the bill when the full Senate considers it unless I am completely assured that no innocent conduct would be criminalized.
With the adoption of my amendment and the changes to the original legislation I believe this legislation can reduce illegal trafficking of firearms and prevent crimes being performed with illegal firearms.
Due to my strong conviction to the Second Amendment I oppose Senator Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban. The legislation raises constitutional concerns that arise in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. Additionally, I oppose the universal background check bill. Recently, the Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice wrote that universal background checks can be enforced only if there is gun registration. I oppose gun registration and believe expanded background checks would not deter prohibited persons who now avoid background checks.
Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns with gun control legislation. I want to reaffirm my commitment to honoring the Second Amendment and protecting law-abiding Americans’ right to purchase and own firearms. I agree that overly restrictive gun control does very little to deter criminals. It does however, do a great deal to limit the ability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves. I am committed to making sure that people who illegally use firearms to commit a crime cannot have access to firearms and serve the maximum sentence so they cannot pose a threat to society.
Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future with any questions or comments you may have.