Biden's DOJ promised to get tough on "straw buyers," but many of them are getting probation instead of prison

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Most gun owners are familiar with the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” anti-straw purchasing initiative, which seeks to warn would-be straw buyers about the legal dangers of buying a gun for someone who can’t. As the NSSF says, under existing federal law, taking part in a straw purchase means serious time behind bars if caught and convicted.

Convicted felons, minors, persons determined by a court of law to be “mentally defective” and certain others are prohibited by law from buying a firearm.

If a friend or relative asks you to lie to the federal government or to a federally licensed firearms retailer to try to buy a gun for him/her, don’t do it! It’s not worth 10 years in jail.

Understanding the importance of cooperating with law enforcement, the firearms industry through the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) — the industry’s trade association — has for more than a decade partnered with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) to assist law enforcement in educating firearms retailers to be better able to identify and deter illegal straw purchases and to raise public awareness that straw purchasing is a serious crime.

Here’s the problem: while current federal law allows for a ten-year sentence, defendants rarely face that much time behind bars, especially if they end up pleading guilty. Take these recent cases as examples:

An Indiana man who provided money and a shopping list for three individuals who bought more than a dozen guns for him received just two years in prison and two years probation for his crime.

A gun trafficking ring stretching from Alabama to Massachusetts was broken up by federal authorities, but the defendants received little-to-no prison time as a result.

Freddie Ward, 23, of Uniontown, was sentenced to 15 months in prison.  Ward pleaded guilty to giving a false statement during the purchase of a firearm in October 2021.

On April 28th, Dayquan A. Haley, 23, of Boston, Massachusetts, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.  Haley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to falsify information on firearm acquisition records in December 2021.

On March 30thMichael Tiree Coleman, 24, of Tuscaloosa, was sentenced to 5 years’ probation.  Coleman pleaded guilty to giving a false statement during the purchase of a firearm in October 2021.

Another straw buyer in the Richmond, Virginia area was also recently sentenced to two years probation rather than prison because of  his “social and mental health vulnerabilities.”

In sentencing Justin M. Pate to probation instead of prison, U.S. District Court Judge M. Hannah Lauck took into consideration arguments by the prosecution and defense that Pate has longstanding social and mental health vulnerabilities and likely was taken advantage of by people seeking firearms who were prohibited by law from purchasing them.

… During the course of investigating various crimes involving the trafficking of firearms in and through the Richmond area, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tried to discern who originally purchased the firearms from federally licensed gun dealers, the government said.

“Several of the firearms the ATF recovered during controlled purchases of trafficked firearms showed that they had been purchased by the defendant,” Anthony wrote. ATF agents then approached Pate about his involvement, and he admitted to having purchased more than 20 guns, a number of which were straw purchased for others.

Ultimately, Pate either sold the remaining firearms or they were stolen from him during a home invasion and robbery, the government said.

Authorities subsequently learned of Pate’s mental health and physical issues, which prosecutors said likely made him a “prime target” to people who could feign friendship with Pate in order to convince him to do them a favor. “While the defendant was aware that his actions constituted lies and were wrong, [he] succumbed to peer pressure and desire for acceptance when he chose to participate in the crime.”

So he was aware that what he was doing was wrong, but he gets a pass because of “peer pressure” and a desire to make friends? Anyone else have a problem with that?

While senators like John Cornyn and Chris Murphy rush to find some sort of compromise on gun control that will be palatable to 60 of their colleagues, they’re ignoring the fact that the Biden administration isn’t coming anywhere close to fully enforcing the laws that are already on the books. Last summer Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a crackdown on exactly these crimes, but there’s no evidence that the DOJ is taking straw purchasing seriously at all. The ten-year sentence that straw purchasers can receive in theory rarely, if ever, matches the reality of what they receive, and rather than pursuing stiff punishments for those who break the law, the DOJ seems eager to cut many defendants a break… even if it means they never spend a day in prison for their crimes.