WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins is part of a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation on Monday to give police and federal prosecutors more tools to fight gun trafficking and illegal “straw purchases” of firearms.

Co-sponsored by three Democrats and two Republicans, the bill would create the first federal definition for gun trafficking and would set stiff penalties for people who buy guns for individuals who cannot legally possess firearms. It would also make it a crime to traffic guns bought in the U.S. to other countries, in an apparent attempt to stem the flow of firearms fueling the bloody drug wars in Mexico.

There remains a wide political chasm in Congress over proposals to ban assault weapons, restrict ammunition magazine sizes and institute a universal background check system. But lawmakers on both sides of the gun control debate have called for stronger laws to combat gun trafficking.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate committee handling gun bills, and Collins, R-Maine, introduced the bill on the Senate floor Monday evening. The three other co-sponsors are Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, both of Illinois.

Collins said in her floor remarks that the legislation — which is a modified composite of two earlier proposals by Leahy and Gillibrand — would impose penalties of up to 25 years in prison for the crimes, rather than treating them like “paperwork violations.” But she said the bill does so without “unnecessary burdens on lawful private sales.”

“Our bill will help to keep guns out of the hands of criminals without infringing in any way upon the 2nd amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Collins said.

As a moderate Republican who represents a gun-friendly state, Collins has been under pressure from both sides in the gun debate that flared up following December’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. Both the National Rifle Association — which most recently gave Collins a mediocre C-plus rating — and gun control advocates have targeted her with ads in Maine.

But like many Republicans and Democrats representing rural areas, Collins was lukewarm to President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals released after the Newtown shootings.

Both gun trafficking and straw purchases have been problems in Maine due, in part, to the state’s thriving but largely unregulated private gun sales marketplace. Unlike guns sold by licensed firearms dealers, guns sold privately in Maine can change hands without a criminal background check on the buyer.

Police in Massachusetts have traced a number of guns used in crimes back to gun trafficking rings with straw purchasers in Maine. Gun control groups and some prosecutors that guns from Maine and other states are fueling violence in Massachusetts, which has among the nation’s toughest gun laws.

The bill introduced Monday would impose much stiffer prison times for individuals who lie on background check forms while buying a gun for someone else.

Leahy’s Senate Judiciary Committee will work on the bill this Thursday along with measures to ban assault rifles and to require background checks for all gun sales.

Kevin Miller — 317-6256
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Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

 

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