Editorial: Public Safety: Weak gun laws have loopholes
A person living in her car in Minneapolis bought 47 guns. She sold some to criminals who committed crimes and only by chance and luck was she caught and arrested.
Our weak gun laws are not designed to prevent such activity, and law enforcement officials say such cases are on the rise. And with continued opposition to even talking about gun safety laws, this kind of straw-buying, lawbreaking criminals will likely have better odds next time.
An in-depth report in the Star Tribune showed Sarah Jean Elwood was able to purchase 47 guns at various gun shops legally because she did not have a felony record. Plenty of folks who did have felony records bought from her, and she made thousands of dollars on the deals.
So-called "straw-purchasing" is a state and federal crime, but law enforcement experts say there is no way to know how many straw purchases are made because there is no way to track evidence like the purchase of multiple firearms by any one buyer. Elwood bought the guns in May and by the end of the month, three had turned up in criminal investigations.
There are no penalties for dealers whose guns are used disproportionately in crimes. Experts say some dealers likely know they're selling to a straw buyer, but do so anyway. One study published in the Journal of Urban Health showed one in five gun dealers in a survey sold guns to a person who specifically stated they were buying it for someone else.
Federal prosecutors in Minnesota are currently investigating the straw buying of some 100 guns, seeking others besides Elwood.
While Democrats and a few Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have attempted to pass common-sense gun safety laws, they have been met with opposition by the powerful gun lobby, Republicans and a few Democrats.
Minnesota in 2015 made straw-buying a gross misdemeanor, a low-level crime that carries a maximum fine of $3,000. Bill author Sen. Ron Latz told the Star Tribune that he doubted there was the political will in Minnesota to make any gun safety laws tougher.
Creating legislation to prevent straw-buying, like licensing and enforcing the laws we have on the books, should not be a partisan issue.
Maryland, a state with a GOP governor, has passed gun licensing laws that helped reduce straw purchases by 82 percent, according to Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, who helped conduct the study.
Minnesota and federal laws are clearly inadequate to prevent gun-trafficking by straw buyers. We can have the political will to do something about it, or we can let straw buyers continue to beat our lackluster efforts.