Click HERE for Q&A on red/yellow flag laws.
Click HERE for Q&A on straw purchasing.
Washington, D.C.—At an appropriations subcommittee hearing this afternoon, U.S. Senator Susan Collins questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray about gun safety legislation that could be enacted to help prevent horrific tragedies such as the mass shooting that occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, yesterday.
Senator Collins expressed support for Maine’s yellow flag law, which permits temporary firearm confiscation in high-risk situations with strong due process protections.
Senator Collins: “All of us are clearly horrified by the vicious killings that occurred yesterday. And I want to ask you about one approach that’s been taken and get your judgment about it. The State of Maine is among some states that have enacted statutes that we call either a red or yellow flag law. And the law in Maine, which was developed in consultation with a wide range of groups, essentially allows the court to have the police temporarily confiscate firearms from someone who is deemed to be a danger to either him or herself or to others. Importantly, the Maine law includes due process rights and medical assessment, so it can’t be just some neighbor’s opinion or even a family member’s opinion, there has to be a medical assessment as well. And that’s to ensure that the concerns are well founded, and that Second Amendment rights for law abiding citizens are protected. In your experience, how successful have these relatively new red flag and yellow flag laws been?”
FBI Director Wray: “…[I]t’s been our experience that with a whole wide variety of shooter situations, whether it’s a terrorist type situation or more traditional violent criminal situation, most of the time you see that there was someone who knew the person or came into contact with the person who saw some change in behavior that alarmed them. And in the situations where law enforcement has been successful at preventing an attack, it’s almost always thanks to somebody like that coming forward. And whether it’s done through a protective order of the sort, protection order of the sort you’re describing, or whether it’s just because they contacted law enforcement and law enforcement was able to act, that’s the key. And the ones that haven’t been prevented, an awful lot of the time, it turns out there was somebody who maybe didn’t know how to contact law enforcement or was afraid to contact law enforcement for one reason or another. And you hear all the time the saying if you see something, say something, and most people when they hear that they picture the unattended backpack, you know, in the Greyhound bus terminal or something, but what we really need right now in this country is if you see something about somebody, say something, and if they do, whether it’s through statutes like the one in Maine, or through some other mechanism, that can be quite effective. And certainly, if more states were to adopt these laws, we would on our end through NICS and NCIC, have to make arrangements to be able to then have that information in the relevant databases to be able to help prevent them from getting their hands on a weapon, but certainly, it’s something we could look at.”
Senator Collins also emphasized the need to pass legislation that would crack down on straw purchasing, which puts guns in the hands of criminals who cannot legally obtain them. Last year, Senator Collins introduced the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), which would make it an explicit federal crime to act as a straw purchaser of firearms for the first time.
Senator Collins: “Another proposal that I’ve long supported would strengthen federal law by making it easier for prosecutors to go after gun traffickers and straw purchasers. And let me describe what I’ve seen and heard about in the State of Maine from law enforcement officers: Gangs and drug dealers target addicts who have clean records. So they then ask them to purchase guns for them, and they swap heroin or other drugs for the guns. These guns are then used to commit horrific crimes in our communities, often far from Maine. There was a gang in Connecticut that was known for coming to Maine, enlisting addicts to buy guns for them because the addicts had clean records and could pass the background check. So this Congress, I’ve once again joined my colleague, Senator Leahy, in reintroducing the Stop Illegal Trafficking and Firearms Act, and we would create a new criminal offense for straw purchasing. Right now, it’s essentially treated as a paperwork violation, a slap on the wrist. Instead, we would make these crimes punishable by time behind bars. What is your opinion of closing that straw purchaser loophole that allows for criminal gangs to access guns when they could not buy them themselves because of their own criminal records?”
FBI Director Wray: “…[E]ven back to when I was a line prosecutor, I used to prosecute a lot of these same straw purchaser cases. And typically, as you say, they’re prosecuted as false statements cases, you know, when somebody essentially lies on the 4473 form. And just as you say, what you see over and overall is violent gang members who enlist people who are down on their luck for one reason or another, either they’re, as you say, they’re addicts or they’re financially in distress, and so the money that comes with it, when they get paid to be the straw purchaser, they take advantage of people who are down on their luck that way. I think there might be a difference in the culpability level for the straw purchaser versus the gang member who enlists them and that’s when we, when I tried those cases and prosecuted those cases, that was sort of the approach we took, but I think you’re right to be focused on the straw purchaser issue as an important ingredient to preventing guns from getting in the hands of people who are, after all, prohibited under existing law from having them.”