Story on Pennsylvania straw buys makes bizarre argument

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

There are a number of ways criminals get guns. One way, though far from the primary method, is via straw buys.

For those unaware, a straw buy is when someone with a clean criminal record buys a gun for someone who can’t lawfully buy a firearm for themselves. It’s against federal law to do such a thing and many want to put the onus for such buys on gun stores, but the truth is that unless they’re incredibly stupid, it’s hard to detect when it’s happening.


It can also be difficult to prove that it happened previously, meaning a lot of people who carry out such purchases go unprosecuted.

Yet a recent story seems to lament a lack of tools in Pennsylvania to stop straw buys.

Straw purchasing, the term used when someone buys a gun and then gives or sells it to people barred from buying it themselves.

The method is just one avenue by which firearms — millions of which are legally sold every year — can end up becoming crime guns. People also steal guns, buy them through illegal off-the-books sales on the streets, or build them through online ghost gun kits.

To understand what drives the illegal straw purchasing market, The Inquirer reviewed more than 135 court cases from the last three years in which people in the Philadelphia region were charged with gun trafficking or straw purchasing. Defendants typically faced charges including selling a gun to an ineligible person, providing false information about gun ownership, or making false statements during a purchase.

That review, along with interviews and data analysis, showed that defendants were accused of trying to put nearly 900 guns into circulation — mostly handguns, but also at least two dozen assault rifles.

Police and prosecutors say an untold number of straw buyers get away with the crime, in part because of Pennsylvania’s lax gun laws. There is no limit to the number of weapons someone can buy, no mandate to report a gun lost or stolen, and no requirement for firearms dealers about how or when to flag purchases as suspicious.


Except that straw buys themselves are already illegal, which should be more than enough to permit prosecutors to do their job, right?

See, even if there was a limit to how many weapons someone could buy–I’m hoping they mean within a given time frame because telling me I can only own X number of firearms for my whole life is definitely going to be unconstitutional–it would simply mean more straw buyers would be recruited.

The idea of a law requiring someone to report a lost or stolen gun sounds viable, but a lot of people buy a gun, put it away, and don’t look at it again until they need it. They don’t realize it’s stolen until they go to look for it.

As for requirements for firearm dealers, it should be remembered that they’re already on the hook for conducting a sale they believe to be illegal. If they have reason to believe they’re witnessing an attempted straw buy, they don’t finish the sale.

The problem here is that cities like Philadelphia can’t handle their crime problem, so they look at ways they can shift the blame and make it so that they’re just powerless pawns.

Straw sales only account for a very small percentage of guns in criminal hands and we all know it. They know it. This is nothing more than using the media to cover for their inability to address the real problems facing Pennsylvania’s communities.


We all know that, too.

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