Ella French was gunned down while conducting a routine traffic stop in Chicago, and the tragic murder has one politician seizing upon her death to elevate himself and advance a new gun control law. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) blames the accused straw-seller of the weapon used to shoot French. In the wake of the tragedy, once again, a Democrat hoping for a hero’s cape calls for more government intervention. In this case, Durbin is using a bill he previously introduced to create another federal firearm crime.
What’s a Straw Purchase?
A straw purchase is when someone who is able to purchase a firearm legally does so for a prohibited person, or someone who cannot. It is a method of weapon acquisition popular amongst those forbidden from legally owning guns. On Monday, August 9, federal charges were brought against a man in Chicago alleged to be the straw purchaser responsible for “legally” buying the firearm used to kill Officer French and shoot her partner as well. Prosecutors say Mr. Jamel Danzy bought the gun in Indiana back in March and subsequently gave it to one of the occupants in the car French had pulled over when she was killed. Would a new federal law have made a difference?
Danzy has been arrested and charged with “conspiracy to violate federal firearm laws, including knowingly transferring and giving a firearm to an out-of-state resident, knowingly making a false written statement to acquire a firearm, and knowingly disposing of a firearm to a convicted felon.” The charges carry a maximum five-year prison term. Mr. Durbin stood in the well of the Senate after the officer’s death and said:
“Right now, straw purchasing is treated – listen to this – as a federal paperwork violation for lying on a federal gun purchase form.”
There Ought to Be a Law …
Durbin is correct that straw purchases are treated as a “paperwork violation,” but it’s a lie to suggest that means nothing. Those paperwork charges put Martha Stewart and Bernie Madoff away, for instance, and are the legal underpinnings of many federal prisoners’ convictions. You might say false statement charges are the bread and butter of federal criminal charges. Also, the federal false statement prohibition already contains an exception for firearms that more harshly treat violations in that area. The law allows for a 15-year term in prison. The evidence against Danzy didn’t meet this standard, so he was charged with the lesser count of conspiracy.
It’s another part of Senator Durbin’s statement we should be focusing on: “Charges are rarely brought, and when they are, the sentences are often just a matter of months.” Why are charges rarely brought? Mr. Durbin is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Minority Whip. He profoundly influences who is appointed U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois, and no Democrat president would nominate someone to the post without a passing nod from Durbin. So why isn’t he putting the pressure there? Instead, Durbin wants a new federal law passed, which will increase the maximum straw-purchase conviction term to 25 years.
Why is another national firearms law called for here? It’s no surprise the murder of a police officer would find a reaction from federal prosecutors on a straw-purchase charge. What about the gun cases that don’t make the front pages? Danzy’s straw purchase is perhaps the most typical way the crime goes down. It’s not anonymous black-market dealers, but the friends, family, boyfriends, and girlfriends of prohibited persons who most often make these buys. Mr. Danzy said he has been in a relationship with one of the suspects in the car, and he owned the vehicle involved in the deadly traffic stop. Girlfriends buying guns for boyfriends is the most typical straw purchase, as reported by gun shop owners.
The ATF even has a program called “Don’t Lie for The Other Guy” designed to educate would-be straw purchasers of the law. Is Durbin’s legislation likely to lead to fewer dead cops or anyone else? No information he has presented leads to such a conclusion. Prosecutors who are not pursuing straw purchasers now will have no incentive to do so with a new law. Unless prosecutors treat all straw buyers harshly under the law, no new rules will make a difference.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.