March 16, 2018
The Honorable Jeff Sessions
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Sessions:
The Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence welcomes your recently announced effort to crack down on those who lie on gun purchase forms, including straw purchasers.
Straw purchases – unlawful purchases of firearms by individuals on behalf of others – are a common method by which felons, domestic abusers, and others barred by law from owning or possessing guns get them. They represent one side of the problem — the buyer. Equally, if not more important, is focusing attention on the seller’s role in straw purchases.
Gun dealers who knowingly sell to straw purchasers, or who do not take sufficient precautions to prevent such sales, are thwarting the federal background check system and arming dangerous people. The Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence therefore urges the Department of Justice to prioritize prosecuting those gun dealers who facilitate straw transactions and enable criminals to obtain guns.
As you know, most gun dealers are responsible business people who take their rights, and their responsibilities, seriously. But a few irresponsible dealers repeatedly choose to prioritize profits over public safety, and are responsible for most of the criminal gun trafficking market, with deadly consequences.
According to ATF, about five percent of gun dealers supply about 90 percent of crime guns recovered in the United States. The problem of straw sales by gun dealers is widely acknowledged by law enforcement, the gun industry, and gun violence prevention groups. Indeed, a joint program of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (“NSSF”) entitled “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” makes it clear that gun dealers have an obligation to confirm the legality of their sales and not to complete a transaction when there are grounds to believe it may be a straw purchase.
As a result of a recent Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) lawsuit against ATF, the Brady Center now has reports from many of ATF’s gun dealer inspections. These documents confirm that ATF has already identified many gun dealers that repeatedly engage in knowing or negligent straw transactions, but many of them are allowed to keep their licenses to sell guns. Not only have these gun dealers evaded prosecution for their criminal acts, but they also remain in business profiting from illegal gun sales, where they can continue to supply firearms to those who criminally traffic them. As an urgent matter of public safety, the Department of Justice must address these gun dealers through prosecutions and license revocations.
Just as we target drug suppliers, we must target illegal firearm suppliers. So long as irresponsible gun dealers remain in business, willing and able to supply straw purchasers, the arrest and prosecution of straw buyers will not accomplish nearly enough.
Brady has extensive experience working on this issue, and we would like to meet with you, at your earliest convenience, to discuss how to shut down or reform the gun dealers who are fueling the criminal market for guns.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Avery Gardiner, Co-President
Kris Brown, Co-President