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New gun trafficking law leads to charges against more than 250 people

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Over the past 16 months, the Justice Department has aggressively deployed a new law targeting gun traffickers to charge more than 250 people, according to interviews with law enforcement, administration and congressional officials.

Through the end of October, the department has prosecuted 207 defendants with the gun trafficking provision of the law. Eighty were charged with violating the law’s provision against straw purchasers — people who buy guns on behalf of other people who typically are not legally allowed to own a weapon because of their criminal history or other reasons, federal officials said.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 has also led to the seizure of over 1,300 guns, including 190 AR-style rifles that are frequently a weapon of choice in mass shooting attacks, according to figures compiled by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Lawmakers began working on the legislation in the wake of the mass killing at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., which killed 21 people, most of them small children.

Gillibrand, who spent more than 10 years pushing for one of the key law enforcement provisions in the bill, said she was “very gratified to see the law being implemented effectively across the country.” She said the figures were evidence that Democrats in the White House and Congress are fighting crime effectively by focusing on gun violence, even as Republicans charge that Democrats have let crime rise.

FBI data shows violent crime dropped 1.7 percent across the country in 2022, including a 6.1 percent decrease in murder and non-negligent manslaughter. Nationally, the number of adult victims of fatal gun violence fell 6.6 percent, while juvenile victims increased 11.8 percent (in D.C., homicides dropped last year but have increased this year). Property crimes rose 7.1 percent last year.

D.C. logs its 200th homicide of the year at earliest point since 1997

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In Iowa this summer, the new federal law was used to charge four alleged members and associates of a street gang called Only My Brothers, or OMB. The federal and local investigation led to the seizure of 73 guns.

The bill also steers hundreds of millions of dollars to mental health treatment as part of the effort to stem the tide of gun violence in America.

“A lot of the gun death and gun crime, and a lot of the public health safety issues that people have been most concerned about, are emanating from mental health challenges. … If there were earlier interventions in the lives of these shooters, criminals and gang members, you might have been able to prevent those crimes,” said Gillibrand, who is scheduled to speak publicly with the New York City Police Department Monday about gun crime and the use of the new law.

The law created two criminal statues prohibiting firearms trafficking and straw purchasing and allows for stronger prison penalties, in particular for straw purchases. Before the law, straw-purchase cases were often frustrating for law enforcement officials to prosecute. Straw purchasers, almost by definition, are individuals without a criminal record, which means that when they were charged with making a straw purchase, they rarely received any jail time because it was their first offense.

Under the new law, convicted straw purchasers are far more likely to face prison time, according to Justice Department officials. The law also allows such gun law violations to be considered as potential racketeering cases, which could lead to larger cases and longer prison sentences.

Gillibrand said when the law first passed, some law enforcement officials privately expressed reservations that it might not work or produce more cases.

“I said, ‘Well, let’s at least try it out and try to prosecute cases,’ and that’s exactly what they did. It was really inspiring how quickly ATF agents in New York responded to the law to rein in the gun traffickers here,” Gillibrand said.

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ATF works on new rules for gun buys

Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, called the law “a monumental” achievement and the “first significant gun safety legislation in decades.”

In Gillibrand’s home state alone, agents have used the law to seize more than 120 guns. Nationwide, the gun seizures include more than 150 “ghost guns” — weapons made from kits without the usual serial numbers and background checks on purchasers.

“Ghost guns” are becoming increasingly popular with teenagers and those whose criminal records keep them from buying guns in the marketplace. Ghost gun sales and their use in violent crimes have spiked sharply in recent years, law enforcement agencies say.

Rob Wilcox, deputy director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said that while the law has already shown important successes, there is much more to do to fully implement it.

“We know how important this step is, but it’s really just one piece of the overall puzzle to end the epidemic of gun violence,” Wilcox said.

The bill also strengthened background checks and provided funding for states to implement red-flag laws, which allow police, family members or sometimes doctors to petition a court to take away someone’s firearms for up to a year if they feel that person is a threat to themselves or others. Twenty-one states and D.C. have some version of a red-flag law.

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The Justice Department is also working on a new regulation to end the “gun show loophole,” in which gun-show sellers are subject to much looser federal regulations than vendors who sell at bricks-and-mortar stores. Over time, that loophole grew to include people who sell firearms online. Any such change in regulations will probably be tested in the courts.

Source: Washington Post

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