Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today introduced bipartisan gun trafficking legislation aimed at cracking down on the daily flow of illegal guns on our nation’s streets. Authored along with Republican Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act of 2015 would make gun trafficking a federal crime and provide tools to law enforcement to get illegal guns off the streets, away from criminal networks and street gangs, and to prosecute those who traffic firearms. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), 8,539 firearms were recovered and traced in New York State in 2013. Of those, nearly 70 percent came from out of state. In 2013, 331 weapons recovered in New York State came from Georgia alone. However, there is no federal law that defines gun trafficking as a crime.
The Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act of 2015 establishes gun trafficking as a federal crime and also cracks down on bad gun dealers. Senator Gillibrand has been working on gun trafficking legislation since 2009, and similar bipartisan legislation she introduced received 58 votes in the United States Senate in 2013 – just two votes shy of breaking a filibuster.
“Month after month, year after year, illegal guns tear apart communities across New York and our country and yet there is not a single federal law defining gun trafficking as a crime – enough is enough,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Senator Kirk and I are introducing this bipartisan legislation to crack down on the flow of illegal guns and to give law enforcement the tools to prosecute gun traffickers and their vast criminal networks. We can stop the flow of illegal guns and save innocent lives.”
“The trafficking of guns have led to more than 1,300 shootings in Chicago this year,” said Senator Kirk. “In honor of Hadiya Pendleton, we owe it to future generations to put an end to the gun trafficking that plays a huge role in the senseless violence that is taking lives in Chicago and throughout the country every day.”
“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that states like New York, which has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, remain vulnerable to illegal guns imported from other states with weaker laws,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “We need stronger federal penalties for gun trafficking that will empower our law enforcement officials to bring more criminals to justice. I applaud Senators Gillibrand and Kirk for introducing the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2015, which will keep New Yorkers—and all Americans—safer from the scourge of illegal guns.”
“Weak gun laws in any state endanger communities everywhere,” said Ted Alcorn, Research Director of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Again and again, we see traffickers move guns across state lines that are used to injure or kill our fellow citizens and law enforcement officers. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation gives prosecutors more tools to go after these traffickers — and prevent violent gun crimes from occurring at all. It’s high time for Congress to strengthen the lax gun laws that make it easy for dangerous people to get guns in one state and use them to commit crimes elsewhere.”
“Once again, leaders from both parties in Congress have come together behind a commonsense proposal that would help keep guns out of the wrong hands and make our communities safer places to live,” said former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, the Co-Founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions. “Senators Gillibrand and Kirk should be applauded for standing up for common sense, and leading the fight to crack down on the illegal gun trade. One of the biggest, most dangerous problems with our nation’s gun laws is that we have have no strong, clear federal statute against gun trafficking. This bipartisan bill will help fix that by making it harder for straw purchasers and shady gun dealers to traffic illegal guns to dangerous people – while protecting the Second Amendment rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.”
“Without strong federal gun laws, New York will remain vulnerable to the incessant flow of illegal guns that end up killing and maiming our citizens,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “Current federal gun trafficking laws are weak and don’t deter or punish illegal trafficking. In fact, someone who traffics guns receives the same punishment as someone who traffics chickens or other livestock. Senator Gillibrand’s bill would tackle firearms trafficking by going after straw purchasers, rogue gun dealers who knowingly sell firearms to traffickers and those who run trafficking rings.”
The Problem and Inadequacy of Current Law
Firearms trafficking is a major problem that results in the proliferation of illegal firearms in our communities. In 2013, the ATF recovered:
- 121 guns in Albany
- 317 guns in Syracuse
- 579 guns in Buffalo
- 624 guns in Rochester
Under current law, there is no criminal statute specifically prohibiting trafficking in firearms. Instead, prosecutors rely primarily on laws that prohibit making false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm. These are “paperwork” violations with penalties too low to be effective law enforcement tools. The result is that none of our laws are directly focused on preventing someone from one state from driving to another state with stricter gun laws, parking their car in a parking lot, and selling hundreds of firearms out of their trunk.
In 2013, just 10 states supplied nearly half – 48 percent – of the guns that crossed state lines before being recovered in crimes. Together, these states accounted for nearly 23,000 interstate crime guns recovered.
According to a 2013 report by Third Way, there are roughly 500,000 gun crimes every year in the United States. In 9 of 10 gun crimes where the gun was successfully traced, the person who bought it was not the person who used it in the crime. The report also said that 1 in 3 crime guns has crossed state lines, with crime guns traced in New York, New Jersey and Maryland often coming from Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The report concluded that guns are purchased in the legal market and then move into the illegal market, and gun trafficking serves as a pipeline that delivers guns into the hands of criminals.
The Gillibrand-Kirk bill is named for two gun violence victims. In January 2013, Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old student at King College Prep in Chicago, was killed when shots were fired into a crowd with the intention of hitting a rival gang member. Two young men, Michael Ward, 19, and Kenneth Williams, 21, were charged in her slaying. Ward was arrested in January 2011 on a gun charge but received probation after pleading guilty to unlawful use of a weapon. Pendleton had no arrest record and was considered an unintended target. In 2009, 17-year-old honor student Nyasia Pryear-Yard was shot and killed by an illegal gun while with friends in Brooklyn. Witnesses said that the shooting appeared to be a response to a man shouting gang epithets from the stage.
Key Provisions of the Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act of 2015
The Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act of 2015 would empower local, state, and federal law enforcement to investigate and prosecute gun traffickers and their entire criminal networks, including gangs, cartels and organized crime rings. Specifically, the bill will make it illegal to do the following:
- Sell or otherwise transfer two or more firearms to someone whom the seller knows, or has reasonable cause to know, is prohibited by Federal, State or local laws from owning a firearm (e.g. felon, convicted domestic abuser).
- Purchase or otherwise acquire two or more firearms if the recipient knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, that such receipt would be in violation of any Federal, State, or local law (e.g. if the recipient is a prohibited owner).
- Provide false information on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives firearms transaction record form.
- Knowingly facilitate the above actions.
The bill establishes harsh penalties, including a maximum prison penalty of 20 years for the above infractions. The penalty is further increased by five years for the organizer(s) of the trafficking ring, and conspirators face a maximum penalty of 20 years. The legislation also calls upon the Sentencing Commission to substantially increase the penalties for trafficking when committed by, or in concert with, members of gangs, cartels, organized crime rings or other criminal enterprises.
The following groups have endorsed the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking and Crime Prevention Act of 2015: Everytown for Gun Safety, Third Way, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence united with the Million Mom March, Americans for Responsible Solutions, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and Harlem Mothers Save.