House Democrats, Republicans to unveil gun trafficking bill

February 4, 2013

In the first sign of bipartisan cooperation on gun control in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, four Democratic and Republican lawmakers plan to unveil a bill Tuesday that would make gun trafficking a federal crime.

The four lawmakers — Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Scott Rigell (R-Va.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — plan to unveil the measure alongside law enforcement leaders. The bill, called the "Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013," mirrors a bipartisan Senate proposal unveiled last week and legislative proposals recently introduced by President Obama.

The bill would make gun trafficking a federal crime and impose new penalties against gun "straw purchasers" who knowingly buy firearms for convicted criminals who are barred from buying their own weapons.

The four lawmakers all hail from urban or suburban areas. Maloney and Cummings have sponsored similar gun control bills in previous years. Meehan is a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted gun crimes in Philadelphia and whose district includes some of the city's wealthier suburbs. Riggell's suburban Hampton Roads-area district includes one of the largest minority populations represented by a House Republican. Individual statements from the two GOP lawmakers were not immediately available.

Separately, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is expected  this week to reintroduce two gun control measures he has sponsored in previous years. The first would bolster efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of suspected terrorists, while the second is a similar bill to ban gun trafficking and expand background checks.

Current federal laws put the onus on law enforcement authorities to prove that a person who transferred weapons to a convicted felon knew or had reasonable suspicions to believe the person was a felon. The bipartisan proposal to be unveiled Tuesday — and similar bills introduced in the Senate — would make it illegal for straw purchasers to transfer firearms to someone barred from owning one.

The bipartisan nature of the proposal, coupled with strong support from law enforcement officials, might make it difficult for House GOP leaders to block any vote on the bill.

In an interview with The Washington Post's Plum Line blog, Rigell said Monday that "Law enforcement and prosecutors are telling us that there is ambiguity in the current code with respect to gun trafficking." They’re telling us that prosecution is difficult. It’s clear that this legislation is needed."

Rigell also told The Plum Line that this bill might present an opportunity for his party to prove they're interested in helping craft bipartisan proposals to gun violence.

"We’re going to fight to get this thing on the floor," Rigell said in the interview. "This is a great opportunity for our conference to demonstrate and to lead on a very important issue and show the American people we’re ready to do what’s right."

Despite the efforts of urban Republican lawmakers, House GOP leaders have said the chamber will not consider any gun-control legislation until a bill is passed by the Senate.

Senate Democrats are working on a proposal that will include expanding background checks for gun purchasers, and other elements — including proposals to make gun trafficking a federal crime. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said last week that he hopes to have a bill ready for full Senate consideration by the end of February.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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