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Congressman Proposes Stiffer Penalties For Those Who Lie To Buy Guns

A Democratic Congressman has introduced legislation that would impose tough new penalties on people who lie when they buy guns.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Ca.) says the bill, the Straw Purchaser Penalty Enhancement Act, would give federal agents new tools to crack down on the flow of weapons across the Southwest border into Mexico.

Nowadays, many episodes where people lie about the true identity of the purchaser of guns, or engage in straw purchases, never get prosecuted at all, Schiff says in an interview with NPR.

"The penalties are so insufficient that prosecutors don't want to bring the cases and more than that you can't get sufficient cooperation when you indict them to roll them up and use their testimony against higher ups in the gun smuggling organization," he says.

Under Schiff's proposal, people engaged in straw purchasing could face a mandatory two year minimum prison sentence, which he says could "put some teeth" in the law and help prosecutors compel the gun buyers to provide information about higher ranking people who receive the weapons.

The proposal comes after a year long congressional investigation into the flawed gun trafficking operation known as Fast and Furious. In that case, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona lost track of more than 1,000 weapons purchased under suspicious circumstances. Many later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the Mexican border, including near the body of slain U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

"Part of the reason that such desperate and flawed techniques were used," in Fast and Furious, Schiff says, is because agents testified they didn't have more potent legal tools at their disposal.

"If we can provide prosecutors...with a hammer to place over the head of those who are knowingly and willingly participating in the smuggling of weapons to these traffickers, then hopefully we can put a dent in this mutually destructive trade with Mexico where they send their drugs north and we send our arms south," Schiff says.

The prospects for his bill are unclear. The National Rifle Association has opposed most new gun controls, citing the Second Amendment, and Republicans on Capitol Hill have tried to block the Obama administration's efforts to get more disclosure about multiple gun purchases in border states.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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