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Amid Fast and Furious probe, Democrats push new gun control bill

July 15, 2011|By Christine Mai-Duc
  • Mexican federal police stand next to seized weapons, including AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, during a presentation of members of the Zetas criminal organization and drug gang in May.
Mexican federal police stand next to seized weapons, including AR-15 and… (Jorge Dan Lopez / Reuters )

The debate surrounding gun control laws has reignited following the Fast and Furious investigation, and the latest volley was launched Friday.

Two House Democrats introduced a bill that would make the trafficking of firearms to known felons or someone intending to commit a felony a federal offense. The bill, put forth by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), was drafted in response to testimony from law enforcement agents, who have said current law leaves gaps in enforcement against straw purchasers who often supply drug cartels with weapons.

In a letter to congressional colleagues, Cummings cited a July 4 transcript in which embattled Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Chief Kenneth Melson asserts that a dedicated firearms trafficking law would be "most helpful" in imprisoning known traffickers.

Currently, say sponsors, violators can often only be charged with "paperwork violations" that carry light sentences, like lying on federal forms.

The proposed law carries a maximum sentence of 20 to 25 years in prison with stiffer penalties for so-called "kingpin" traffickers.

"This legislation gives law enforcement the tools they need to do their job," Maloney said.

The push comes as a congressional investigation intensifies around ATF's Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed straw purchasers to transfer thousands of weapons to Mexico in hopes of tracking trafficking routes and networks. As the probe has revealed, the agency lost track of many of the weapons, one of which surfaced at the site of the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Cummings denied that the legislation was an attempt to detract from the ongoing investigation.

"I want to make it clear we are very troubled by Fast and Furious. It is our belief that we are going to have to look at this case very carefully and we must go where the evidence leads," said Cummings, who is the ranking member on the committee investigating the matter. "But conducting oversight is pointless unless we translate what we learn into action."

On Monday, the Obama administration announced its toughest gun control measure to date, requiring gun dealers in the Southwestern states to report more than five long gun sales in a five-day period. It was one in a series of changes ATF agents have asked for to increase their ability to corral the illegal gun trade.

The legislation has little chance of passing in a Republican-controlled House, and a powerful NRA lobby lining up to combat the latest gun control measures. Following President Obama's announcement of the new reporting rules, the organization vowed to file lawsuits with the receipt of the first letters from ATF.

"This is a blatant effort by the Obama administration and ATF to divert the focus of Congress … from their gross incompetence in the Fast and Furious scandal," wrote Chris Cox, the NRA's executive director. "This scheme will unjustly burden law-abiding retailers in border states."

But proponents argued that the NRA shouldn't have any reason to oppose the gun trafficking statute.

"This is not a 2nd Amendment issue," said Dennis Henigan, acting president of the Brady Campaign, an advocate for gun control laws. "There is no 2nd Amendment right to supply drug gangs with the firepower of an army."

The NRA continued to echo previous statements that what's needed is greater enforcement, not more laws. "The laws are already on the books," said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesperson for the NRA, in an interview. "The problem is a lack of enforcement."

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