The Last Straw for Gun Control

On June 12, a bipartisan group of 20 senators announced a framework deal for gun-related legislation. One of the prongs of the nine-point proposal targets straw purchases.

As defined by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), a straw purchase refers to someone purchasing a gun for a third party who is prohibited by law from possessing one, or for someone who does not want their name associated with the transaction.

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Deemed a federal crime, straw purchases are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Federally licensed firearm dealers must perform background checks for those seeking to buy a firearm. They are also required to maintain records of their gun sales and make them available to law enforcement for inspection.

These background checks and records involve the purchaser and not always the ultimate user of the gun, hence the need for stricter laws pushed by gun control groups.

According to Giffords, a gun violence advocacy group, state laws vary on the matter.

Despite the combined federal prohibition and state-level legislation, many gun control advocates and experts say the illegal transactions still happen regularly—and there seems to be a significant number of dealers and buyers willing to break the law to complete these transactions.

A 2003 study found that half of the dealers from large U.S. cities were willing to participate in such a purchase, and a 2010 study published in the Journal of Urban Health found that 1 in 5 dealers in California agreed to participate in a straw purchase.

Even if gun dealers usually don’t follow through on these transactions, a 2011 survey of 1,601 licensed dealers nationwide found that 67.3% had experienced attempted straw purchases.

Many gun control groups have called on Congress to strengthen laws governing this aspect of gun purchases.

The aforementioned framework deal, signed by 10 Senate Republicans, may avoid a legislative filibuster. However, a GOP aide involved in the negotiations stressed that the deal is an “agreement on principles, not a final legislative text.”

So far, the specifics of a crackdown on straw purchases remain unclear, but Democrats hope they can bring a gun violence package to the floor later in June.