“Again and again, we see traffickers move guns across state lines that are used to injure or kill our fellow citizens and law enforcement officers. … It’s high time for Congress to strengthen the lax gun laws that make it easy for dangerous people to get guns in one state and use them to commit crimes elsewhere.”—Ted Alcorn, Research Director of Everytown for Gun Safety
“One of the biggest, most dangerous problems with our nation’s gun laws is that we have no strong, clear federal statute against gun trafficking.” —Gabrielle Giffords and Capt. Mark Kelly, co-founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions
Those statements are total fiction—a smokescreen that denies the existence of very real and explicit federal statutes providing tough penalties for all imaginable aspects of illegal firearms trafficking. That denial of truth—especially by politicians and law enforcement officials who know better—reflects a long-existing malfeasance contributing to rising violent crime rates in America’s urban centers.
Historically, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been the leading purveyor of the deceit that federal laws dealing with criminal interstate trafficking in firearms are weak or nonexistent, saying:
“A vast network of gun runners [sic] use[s] our highways like firearm freeways to traffic illegal guns to criminals. Their source is states with weak gun laws where straw buyers easily acquire large quantities of guns with no questions asked, and their destination is street criminals in states with tough gun laws.” “It’s high time for Congress to strengthen the lax gun laws that make it easy for dangerous people to get guns in one state and use them to commit crimes elsewhere.” –Ted Alcorn
Schumer and the entire gun-ban cabal are in lock step on this tired meme, which he calls the “iron pipeline.”
In the June 1997 “Standing Guard,” I addressed then-U.S. Rep. Schumer’s false claims that laws against gun trafficking were “minimal,” citing the black letter of the law as enacted by Congress.
That column is worth revisiting because the truth is as powerful today as it was then.
If existing criminal sanctions under long-standing federal law were enforced, here is what would happen to a typical interstate trafficker, whom I will call “Schumer’s gunrunner.”
This habitual criminal is a felon with multiple convictions, a drug user and a fugitive from justice. His “customers” are likewise convicted felons in the illegal drug trade; two are fugitives; and all are from out of state.
Schumer’s gunrunner takes orders for firearms from his “customers”—five specific handgun models, one each for his separate criminal buyers.
Schumer’s gunrunner drives to another state, enters the shop of a federally licensed dealer and settles on the five handguns he wants. He fills out the obligatory 4473 and falsely answers a list of questions, swearing under penalty of law that he is the lawful purchaser and that he is not prohibited from gun possession. With his fake ID, he is cleared by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
On the way back to New York, Schumer’s gunrunner stops off to visit a fellow criminal who fences stolen guns and buys a flashy, engraved 1911—with the serial number obliterated—for himself. Schumer’s gunrunner then returns to New York City and transfers his five handguns to his drug dealer “customers,” knowing the guns will be used in crimes of violence involving the drug trade.
So, let’s look at what the gun-ban crowd describes as “weak federal laws,” and how they apply. They are found in the U.S. Code, Title 18, under a chapter titled firearms. I’ll total the penalties under what the gun-ban crowd calls “weak” federal laws, tabulating as we go along. Call it the Federal Law Tab.
For starters, it’s a federal felony for a resident of one state to acquire a firearm in another state, except under stringent dealer requirements. Private interstate sales between individuals trading in any firearm is illegal (Sec. 922(a)(3)). The penalty: five years in prison on each count.
Since Schumer’s gunrunner sells his five guns to five different individuals, each transaction involved is counted so the gunrunner’s five guns apply in every violation. Here it adds up to 25 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 25 years.
It is a federal felony for “any person” to “transfer, sell, trade, give, transport or deliver any firearm to any person” who the person knows, or has reason to know, does not reside in the same state (Sec. 922(a)(5)). The penalty: five years in prison on each count. Five guns: 25 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 50 years.
If an out-of-state resident buys from a dealer and makes a false or fictitious statement in purchasing a firearm, or exhibits false identification, those acts are federal felonies, five years on each count (Sec. 922(a)(6)). Falsely filling in the Form 4473 is a crime punishable by 10 years in prison per count. Since Schumer’s gunrunner used fraudulent identification and lied, and swore falsely on his 4473s, three separate crimes occurred under this section. Five guns: 150 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 200 years.
It is a federal felony for a convicted felon to buy, receive or transport or possess any firearm or ammunition. Under Sec. 922(g)(1), each action mentioned—purchase, receipt, transporting or possession—is a 10-year federal felony. Possession means even touching a gun. If applied just to the five guns, that’s 50 years in prison. Receiving the guns from the dealer amounts to 50 years in prison. Transporting the guns to New York City is a 50-year prison sentence. These 922(g)(1) crimes call for 150 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 350 years.
The exact same penalties apply for the same acts committed by a fugitive from justice (Sec. 922(g)(2)). Since Schumer’s gunrunner is a fugitive, that’s another 150 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 500 years. Here alone, he is subject to 75 years with no hope of getting back on the street.
The same penalties apply to known drug users (Sec. 922(g)(3)). Schumer’s gunrunner is a drug user, so he is subject to another 150 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 650 years.
Since he has more than three felony convictions, Schumer’s gunrunner is subject to penalties in Sec. 924(e)(1), which provides for a 15-year sentence on each count, mandatory. Here alone, he is subject to 75 years with no hope of getting back on the street. Federal Law Tab: 725 years.
In completing transactions with his “buyers” in New York City, he commits another host of federal crimes.
If a violator of the Gun Control Act can be shown as intending to commit a state or federal felony involving the firearm, he has committed an additional federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison on each count (Sec. 924(b)). Five guns: 50 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 775 years.
Under Sec. 924(h), “Whoever knowingly transfers a firearm, knowing that such firearm will be used to commit a crime of violence ... or drug trafficking crime ... shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years.” Schumer’s gunrunner knows his “customers” are violent drug dealers or drug users. Five guns: 50 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 825 years.
It is a federal felony for any individual to sell or give a firearm or ammunition to a convicted felon (Sec. 922(d)(1)). The penalty: 10 years in prison on each count. Schumer’s gunrunner knows his “customers” are convicted felons. Five guns: 50 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 875 years.
It is a federal felony for any individual to sell, or give a firearm or ammunition to a fugitive from justice (Sec. 922(d)(2)). The penalty: 10 years in prison on each count. Two of his customers are fugitives: 20 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 895 years.
It is a federal felony for any individual to sell, or give a firearm or ammunition to a person unlawfully using or addicted to a controlled substance (Sec. 922(d)(3)). The penalty: 10 years in prison on each count. All of his customers are drug users: 50 years in prison. Federal Law Tab: 945 years.
If any violator of the Gun Control Act provisions can be shown as intending to commit a state or federal felony involving a firearm, that individual has committed an additional federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison on each count (Sec. 924(b)). So, here again, Schumer’s gunrunner is subject to multiple counts of 10-year federal felonies with his five guns, which will be used in numerous crimes by his customers, including mere possession by them as prohibited persons, and mere possession is an illegal act under New York law. This total would be, at the very least, another 50 years in prison. So far the Federal Law Tab totals 995 years.
But there is more.
18 U.S.C. § 922(i) criminalizes shipment or transport of stolen firearms and calls for a 10-year prison term. Federal Law Tab: 1,005 years.
And 18 U.S.C. § 922(j) covers possession of a stolen firearm and provides a 10-year prison sentence. Federal Law Tab: 1,015 years.
And there is the little matter of the scraped off serial number. 18 U.S.C. § 922(k) covers possession, receipt, shipment, or interstate transport of a firearm with an altered or obliterated serial number. Conviction brings five years in prison.
Federal Law Grand Total: 1,020 years.
That’s about 15 human lifespans in a federal prison for “gun trafficking” using the clear letter of our current federal laws. That’s about 15 human lifespans in a federal prison for “gun trafficking” using the clear letter of our current federal laws.
In tallying possible offenses, the point is not to portray how an actual case would be prosecuted, since the government is selective in determining what charges to bring in a case, and courts do not routinely impose the maximum penalty on every count of conviction in criminal sentencing. Rather, the point is to show that our criminal justice system already has more than enough in its arsenal to put criminals in prison for a very long time—thus shattering the oft-repeated big lie of the gun banners that laws dealing with violent criminals and guns are “weak” or non-existent.
So, why is it that the gun-ban crowd has never demanded that tough existing laws be enforced? Because they know only too well that if current federal laws were enforced against violent criminals and against real gun traffickers, their demands for new gun laws would be DOA—a fate they rightly deserve—because the truth matters.