Miami Democrat wants gun dealers held responsible for suspected straw purchases

Miami Democrat wants gun dealers held responsible for suspected straw purchases

A new bill from Miami Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell would make gun dealers responsible for identifying when customers are purchasing a weapon for someone else and halting the transaction.

Mucarsel-Powell will introduce her bill, called the Firearms Retailer Code of Conduct Act, when the House of Representatives comes back to Washington after Labor Day. She announced the legislation during a press conference held Tuesday with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the March For Our Lives and Parkland parents Fred Guttenberg and Manuel Oliver, who both lost their children during the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The bill would require gun dealers and their employees to regularly complete training to identify and stop suspected illegal purchases. It would also require dealers not to sell guns to anyone who appears to be intoxicated or those at the risk of harming themselves or others.

“Gun dealers are the last line of defense in stopping these fraudulent purposes,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “Shockingly, under federal law there’s no training to be a federally licensed dealer to sell a gun.”

Mucarsel-Powell’s bill is the latest effort by Democrats to introduce and pass gun control legislation. The bill isn’t likely to become law in the current Congress with Republicans controlling the U.S. Senate, much like a 2019 bill that would require background checks on all firearm sales that passed the U.S. House 18 months ago. The background check bill, the first significant gun control legislation passed by the House in 20 years, currently awaits action in the Senate.

But bills like Mucarsel-Powell’s, despite being more narrowly tailored than broader legislation like an assault weapons ban, could be part of a significant legislative push by Democrats next year if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins the White House and Democrats gain a majority in the Senate. Biden has pledged to sign universal background checks and an assault weapons ban into law if elected.

Mucarsel-Powell — whose father was shot and killed in Ecuador, where she lived as a child — has said passing gun control legislation is one of her biggest priorities in Congress and plans to campaign on the issue in her reelection race against Republican Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. She represents Florida’s 26th Congressional District, which includes most of western and southern Miami-Dade County along with the Florida Keys.

“Manny [Oliver] and I talk about the challenge of holding people accountable. It is a really tough thing to do,” Guttenberg said. “This bill gives tools to hold people accountable.”

Guttenberg lost his daughter Jaime, 14, and Oliver lost his son Joaquin, 17, in the nation’s deadliest high school shooting. Both parents are advocates for gun control and frequently campaign on behalf of Democrats.

Kris Brown, the president of the Brady Campaign, said gun dealers are currently not required to refuse to sell a gun to someone when there are signs that the gun being purchased will be used for illegal activity or sold illegally. Brown cited the story of Janet Delana, a Missouri woman who told a local gun store owner not to sell a gun to her daughter because she had expressed a willingness to harm herself and family members. Days later, Delana’s daughter, who passed a background check, walked into the gun store and legally purchased a gun she used to kill her father.

“Janet Delana lost her husband and she lost her daughter all because the dealer sold her a gun,” Brown said. She said the gun store owner cited the lack of a law to prevent the sale when he was asked why he sold the gun despite Delana’s warning.

Brown said that when her organization uses its legal team to challenge gun laws in court, they must provide evidence that a gun dealer engaged in gross negligence while making a sale. She said Mucarsel-Powell’s bill would create a “knowing standard,” meaning that a gun dealer would be held responsible if they knew that a person was violating the law at the time of purchase.

“The knowing standard is a high standard,” Brown said, when asked how the new bill would restrict the ability of people who can pass a background check from purchasing a weapon. “The dealer should have known or would have reason to know that an illegal purchase was being made.”

Brown said an example of the knowing standard would be a gun store owner witnessing a buyer making repeated phone calls while in the store to confirm the purchase and price of a specific weapon.

“We don’t want anyone being denied a purchase of a weapon due to underlying bias due to race,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “This is specifically geared towards people that seem to be intoxicated or seem to be making a straw purchase.”

Mucarsel-Powell and Guttenberg also argued that the bill, and others like it, benefits police, even as President Donald Trump accuses Democrats of wanting to “defund” law enforcement agencies. They said that any law that makes it harder for someone to purchase a gun illegally reduces the chance that a police officer will be shot.

“These laws are to protect us and to protect law enforcement,” Guttenberg said.

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