Updated: January 30, 2013 4:35PM
U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) proposed the first bipartisan gun safety legislation of the new Congress on Wednesday, that takes aim at traffickers and the flow of illegal weapons.
The proposal would for the first time make gun trafficking a federal crime, which would presumably carry higher penalties consistent with federal convictions. As part of the new bill, it would be a federal crime for someone to "sell or otherwise transfer" weapons to another person knowing "or have reasonable cause to believe" that the person they're buying it for cannot legally own it. It also bans someone from the "purchase or otherwise acquire" two or more firearms knowing that just by receiving it they are breaking the law. The bill also makes it a federal crime to provide false information on an ATF firearms transaction form, which targets straw purchasers.
The new bill comes as a major gun safety hearing is to take place before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, with expected testimony from former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt, and National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre.
Kirk, who returned to work in the Senate earlier this month after having a stroke a year ago, is also working on legislation with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) to expand background checks, according to a Kirk staffer.
Kirk is a long-time backer of a ban on assault weapons, the most controversial of gun control proposals, but his current legislative efforts are focused elsewhere.
Law enforcement sources told the Sun-Times earlier this month that an assault weapons ban would do little for Chicago, where such a ban has been on the books for decades yet murders topped 500 last year and violence continues to rage through the City.
More important, law enforcement says, is to focus on a large number of firearms that land in the hands of criminals through straw purchasing in the suburbs and other states.
Currently, no federal laws specifically outlaw straw purchasing, in which people with clean backgrounds buy guns for crooks.
Straw purchasers typically face probation for paperwork violations. A real threat of prison could put a chokehold on the practice, the sources said.
Even gang bangers are aware that federal charges routinely bring lengthy, serious sentences.