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Want to buy an AR-15 for a friend who happens to be in a Mexican drug cartel? The way gun laws stand right now, you can: It’s not illegal to purchase guns for a criminal. And federal laws surrounding gun trafficking across the border are notoriously weak. Legislation that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) unveiled Wednesday would help fix that.
The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), strengthens laws governing the “straw purchase” of firearms, or the buying of guns or ammunition for someone who is prohibited from owning one. Under current law, it is only a crime to transfer a firearm to someone else with the knowledge that the person will use it in a crime. So prosecutors usually cobble together “paperwork” violations such as lying on federal forms in order to bring charges against a straw purchaser. Leahy’s bill prohibits weapons transfers in which the transferor has “reasonable cause to believe” that the firearm will be used in criminal activity, and sets up heavy penalties for doing so.