Meehan introduces bill to fight gun trafficking

WASHINGTON -- Congressman Pat Meehan, a Republican from Delaware County, was one of four House members today to introduce a new law aimed at cracking down on gun trafficking and “straw purchases.”

Notably, the law was backed by two Republicans -- including one who touted his membership in the NRA -- and two Democrats, representing a rare moment of bipartisan agreement on tightening gun laws, though they were coming together for what the sponsors conceded was a relatively narrow measure, especially compared to calls for broader steps such as universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity clips.

The bill would increase penalties for straw purchasers who lie when buying guns or are buying them for someone else and create a federal gun trafficking law to fight those who buy guns with the intent to give them to someone who is banned from owning a gun, such as a convicted criminal. Violators could face up to 20 years in prison under the bill. (UPDATE: The existing straw purchase law includes penalties of up to 10 years in prison; there is no specific gun trafficking law, according to Meehan's office).

Meehan, a former U.S. Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania, said that “toothless penalties” currently on the books for gun trafficking “created an environment in which it was very, very difficult to be able to hold a straw purchaser accountable.”

Meehan prominently touted his law enforcement credentials and said this was the kind of step demanded by officers in the field. He and his three co-sponsors spoke in front of about a dozen law enforcement officers in full uniform. Meehan said straw purchases provided the guns that killed Plymouth Township police officer Bradley Fox, in September, and Pennsylvania state trooper Joshua Miller, in 2009.

"What it does is punish those who should not have the guns in their hands but protects the second amendment rights of those who have guns legally and use them appropriately,” Meehan said. He called the proposal a “bottoms-up” approach that takes ideas provided by officers “on the front lines.”

The bill is backed by more than a dozen law enforcement organizations, including the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors -- which is led by Philadelphia Mayor Nutter -- and CeaseFirePA.

The sponsors stressed that it does not add any restrictions on lawful gun owners.

It's not clear, though, how House leadership will view the measure. The GOP-controlled House has generally been cool to new gun laws.

Other sponsors are U.S. Reps. Scott Rigell (R., Va.), Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) and Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.).

Riggell, a gun owner and NRA member, said it was important to find common ground on gun laws and start with what lawmakers on each side of the issue agree on.

“It solves a real problem. It does not, and we don’t represent, that it solves every problem,” Riggell said.

“It punishes the bad guys and protects the good guys and that’s just common sense,” Riggell said.

What’s unclear is if the proposal represents the first step toward agreement on other proposed gun laws, or the limits of common ground on the highly-charged issue.