Do straw buy arrests prove need for permit-to-purchase laws?

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

According to Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings, absolutely they do, though I confess that I’m puzzled by her argument.

Jennings made her case for a permit-to-purchase law on Wednesday, while announcing that five Delaware residents have been charged with 91 counts of illegally buying a gun for someone else.

Jennings used the Wednesday press conference at the Brick Hotel in Georgetown as a chance to also voice her support for a permit-to-purchase law. The legislation would require anyone in Delaware wanting to buy a handgun to first be fingerprinted, undergo training and obtain permission from the state.

A bill that would bring such a law to Delaware, sponsored by Wilmington Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Lockman Wilmington, passed the Senate last year but is stalled in the House.

“We need to be able to have a database that other states around us have to get at these straw purchases in a much more concerted, effective way,” said Jennings, who has previously advocated for this legislation.

The charges announced Wednesday involve over 60 illegally purchased firearms, including one recovered at the scene of a Dover homicide and one used in a New Castle County suicide, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“This is a close-up, tragic look at the damage that straw purchases do and the support that law enforcement needs in order to keep guns out of criminals’ hands,” Jennings said. “Dozens more are currently unaccounted for and can still do untold harm.”

A straw purchase is already a crime, and there are already plenty of tools for law enforcement to use to go after straw buyers. The proposed permit-to-purchase law that Jennings was stumping for on Wednesday, on the other hand, would have a much bigger impact on law-abiding citizens than straw buyers or criminals who acquire their guns on the illicit market.

If this bill were to become law, it would do each of the following:

  1. Mandate a permit to purchase a handgun – permit only good for 180 days
  2. REGISTRATION: Creates a searchable database of firearms and firearm owners new sales and purchases of handguns – for now.
  3. CONFISCATION: Requires State Police to “ensure removal” of firearms from person whose “permit-to-purchase” card has been revoked – all firearms.
  4. Creates new State-mandated training course requirement to purchase – extensive, state-certified, expensive training – only good for five (5) years after which you must take another course – all at your expense- before you buy
  5. Requires Delaware Secretary of Safety & Homeland Security to:
  6. Collect fingerprints and other identifying data on handgun purchasers.
  7. Conduct in-depth background investigation
  8. Ask County and Municipal law enforcement about you, looking for reasons why you should not be allowed to purchase/own a self-defense firearm
  9. Gives Secretary of Safety & Homeland Security the power to deny and/or revoke “permit-to-purchase card” without prior due process – your hearing comes later – at your expense, must be requested within 30 days after Secretary’s adverse action –  Contains a very specific and complex procedure that must be followed.
    YOU WILL NEED A LAWYER – at your own expense, of course.
  10. Implicitly creates a 30-day waiting period – Secretary has 30 days to approve your application for a permit-to-purchase card – bill contains no recourse if it takes longer
  11. Requires Delaware FFL’s to violate federal law by submitting Firearms Transaction Form 4473 to the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
  12. Creates new crimes and a new class of “criminals” –
  13. It will be a crime to “transfer” a handgun to a person who does not have “permit-to-purchase card” – includes private sellers.
  14. It will be a crime to fail to surrender a revoked “permit-to-purchase card” within the required five (5) days
  15. It will be a crime for a transferor of a handgun to fail to keep the required records and to submit the required records to The Secretary – includes private sellers.

The training requirement alone is enough to make this bill utterly unacceptable, but as the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association has detailed, the problems go far beyond that one aspect of the legislation. This isn’t a bill narrowly tailored to address straw buyers. It’s a sweeping reimagining of the Second Amendment that turns the right to keep and bear arms into a privileged to be doled out by the state solely to those it deems acceptable.

Just four years ago the Delaware governor signed a bill that made straw purchases a Class E felony, which supporters said would make jail time “more likely” for offenders. It seems to me that if Jennings and others are serious about cracking down on straw buys, they should guarantee some time behind bars for buying a gun for someone not legally eligible to own one.

Instead, they trying to turn legal gun owners into paperwork criminals through a permit-to-purchase law.. a law, by the way, that has its roots in Jim Crow and even now tends to have a disproportionate impact on black applicants. Maybe Delaware Democrats and gun control activists are okay with those supposedly unintended consequences, but to me it’s yet another reason why the proposed permit-to-purchase legislation shouldn’t have the chance to become law.