US lawmakers introduce gun trafficking bill
Lawmakers from both parties unveiled a bill Tuesday cracking down on "straw purchasers" who traffic firearms to criminals, the first in a series of new gun control measures expected in Congress.
The legislation, widely supported by law enforcement groups, is a relatively narrow measure when compared to legislation requiring universal background checks and banning military-style assault weapons.
But it marks a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation in Washington amid a fierce debate over gun control in the wake of a December shooting that saw a gunman shoot dead 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut primary school.
The sponsors -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- say the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 would stem the flow of guns purchased by people with clean records who then funnel the firearms to those who are legally barred from buying weapons themselves.
Violators could face 20 years in prison under the plan, which the sponsors were quick to point out does not infringe on the constitutional rights of lawful gun owners.
"This common sense legislation has bipartisan support, and when we find common ground, we must embrace it, celebrate it and act on it," said Republican Scott Rigell of Virginia, a state home to the headquarters of the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby.
Democrat Elijah Cummings said the bill could convince skeptics -- especially those in Congress -- who had worried nothing would emerge from the tragedy at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary.
"We have a message for our colleagues in the House: this bill makes sense," Cummings said.
"Law enforcement officials have asked for it. It will make a significant difference in combating gun crime. And it will not affect the rights of a single legitimate gun owner."
The authorities have been hamstrung for years by lax rules about straw purchases.
"For too long, we have been handcuffing the wrong people. We have made it too hard for law enforcement to stop guns from getting into the hands of criminals and too easy for criminals to get their hands on guns," said Democrat Carolyn Maloney of New York.
"With this bill, we can begin to turn that around and slap the handcuffs where they belong."
The legislation is one of several measures being considered in Washington in Newtown's aftermath.
President Barack Obama offered a broad package of gun control proposals, including a measure similar to Tuesday's bill, mandated background checks on all gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity clips.
But many will face hurdles in Congress, especially in the Republican-led House, where conservatives have warned that any attempts at gun control would be seen as infringement on the US Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms.