A Democratic legislator re-introduced a bill Monday that would make it a felony offense to knowingly possess stolen weapons or buy guns with the intention of giving them to people who cannot pass background checks.
Sen. Tim Carpenter, D–Milwaukee, said in a statement the goal of the bill is to strengthen the criminal penalty for these actions to carry a felony charge. Illegally obtaining these guns through “straw purchase” methods of trafficking currently do not have sufficiently severe consequences, he said.
“Keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons is not a political issue, it is a common sense crime prevention issue,” Carpenter said.
The bill attempts to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals by increasing the penalties for accepting or concealing stolen guns and raising the penalty for people who lie during their background check when purchasing these weapons, Carpenter said. The proposed legislation would elevate the significance of both crimes from a misdemeanor to a class H felony.
Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort Executive Director Jeri Bonavia said Carpenter’s proposal is gaining bipartisan support due to the growing awareness among lawmakers of the low penalties straw purchasers receive. She added prosecutors have “very little incentive” to spend resources on cases that yield little return on the investment.
“The statement by law enforcement is they’re not going to spend a lot of time trying to go after straw purchases because the penalty is so minimal,” Bonavia said.
However, Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators Inc. spokesperson Jeff Nass said legislators should not enact stricter penalties on gun trafficking criminals until they can prosecute these individuals under existing state law.
He added another issue with endorsing Carpenter’s bill stems from the difficulty in proving a customer’s intent to provide firearms to an individual who would not pass a background check.
“That’s the whole issue,” Nass said. “How would he or she know they are purchasing [the gun] for a specific person?”
Carpenter introduced the bill in the Senate last week and it was referred to the legislative body’s Committee on Transportation, Public Safety, Veterans and Military Affairs, according to the Wisconsin Legislature’s website.
He introduced a similar bill last legislative session which gained a unanimous vote of approval from the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice in the Assembly, but the Senate did not hear the bill, according to Carpenter’s statement.
Bonavia said the bill may not have passed last year because there was not as much public concern about gun control before the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Carpenter said there is no time for reactive policies on the issue of illegal gun trafficking and his colleagues must act on his initiative this session.
“We can’t continue to wait on this issue that so strongly affects our community,” he said. “We need to pass this bill this session. The safety of our neighborhoods and our law enforcement officers depends on it.”