As the U.S. Congress returned to work Monday, gun control legislation topped the House of Representatives’ agenda. Several of the measures before the House could have an impact on a growing, though quiet, e-commerce sector: gun and ammo trafficking.
While the House this week takes up safety measures such as background checks and waiting periods for buyers and child safety locks for the guns themselves, three other bills waiting in the wings look to close “loopholes” in current gun laws that make it easier for buyers to hide their identities by shopping on the Internet. In the wake of gun-related tragedies in Georgia and Colorado schools this spring, the U.S. Congress is highly energized to display a tougher stance on sales of guns to minors.
However, tackling the Internet, which has already proven difficult to police, will present a distinct challenge for the ambitious legislators. Two bills before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime specifically address the Internet’s role in the illegal sale of guns in the United States.
Internet As “Loophole”
The bill with the best shot of making progress this year is the Internet Gun Trafficking Act of 1999. Introduced by Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, H.R. 1245 has co-sponsorship from 19 other members of the House. An identical companion bill, S.637, has been introduced in the Senate by New York Democrat Charles Shumer.
The bills would make it unlawful for any person who is not a licensed firearm manufacturer, importer, or dealer to sell or exchange a firearm via an Internet website. Violations of the provision would be subject to criminal penalties.
“Right now gun sales take place on the Internet with no checks and balances. An illegal gun dealer can simply have his name, address, and telephone number listed on a web site, making himself available for contact by an unlicensed gun purchaser,” Rush said when he introduced his bill. Noting it is designed to eliminate the Internet “loophole,” Rush said, “No longer will unlicensed dealers and buyers have a free reign and easy access on the Internet.”
Shumer, who teamed with Rush to try to push legislation through both houses at once, added, “The Internet affords computer users — including children and felons — easier-than-ever access to individuals offering firearms for sale…Unlike firearms sales at gun dealerships and even gun shows, illegal Internet firearms sales occur ‘sight unseen,’ thus presenting significant enforcement challenges for federal, state and local authorities.”
Another bill in the House, also introduced by a Congressman from Illinois, would address sales of ammo. H.R.87, presented by Democrat Rod Blagojevich, would amend the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to prohibit anyone other than a licensed firearms dealer from shipping or transporting ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce. The bill would also require each licensee to report on sales or other dispositions of 1,000 or more rounds of ammunition to the same person in one day.
All three bills have been referred to committees for consideration, but no further action on any of them has yet been scheduled. The fate of the larger gun control measures examined this week in the House may dictate the future of more specific measures such as the Internet gun sale bills.