Hadiya Pendleton, Blair Holt gun bill introduced in Congress

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U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-1st, on Tuesday introduced the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 to limit straw purchases of firearms and reduce illegal trafficking of firearms across state lines.

Pendleton was shot Jan. 29 in a Chicago park after a gunman opened fire on the group of youth she was with. Police said the shooting was a result of mistaken identity. Pendleton was struck in the back and later died at a local hospital.

Michael Ward,18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, have been charged with the 15-year-old’s murder. Prosecutors and police said Ward was the shooter and Williams drove the getaway car. Ward had pled guilty in 2012 on a gun charge and got two years probation.

A national spotlight had been even more shone on gun violence in the wake of the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting last summer and  the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December.

“Hadiya’s  death will not be in vain,” Rush said Feb. 9 outside the church where Pendleton’s funeral was held. He was among the host of elected officials who attended her funeral.

One of the key focuses of the Rush’s bill is anti-straw purchasing and firearms trafficking by individuals known as “straw purchasers” who play key roles in most firearms trafficking operations.

 “Equipping federal law enforcement officials with the legislative authority to halt illegal tracking of firearms is an appropriate and sensible action for Congress to take,” said Rush. “Selfish individuals who scam and work around existing checks and controls in the system put our communities at risk through their selfish greed and lack of forethought for others whom they place in harm’s way.”

Under current law, there is no criminal statute illegalizing straw purchasing or firearms trafficking. This bill would make it a federal crime to purchase a gun from a Federal Firearms Licensee for, on behalf of, or at the request or demand of any other person. For purchases made from a private seller, this new section would make it a crime to purchase a gun for, on behalf of, or at the request of someone who is prohibited from possessing a firearm (e.g. a convicted felon or someone adjudicated as mentally ill). The maximum sentence for this offense would be 15 years imprisonment or 25 years imprisonment if the defendant knew or had reasonable cause to believe that any firearm involved would be used to commit a crime of violence.

Rush a long time advocate for tougher gun laws also introduced H.R. 34, the Blair Holt Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2013. Originally, introduced in 2007 and subsequently re-introduced in 2009, the bill is named after Blair  Holt, the Percy L. Julian High School student who was gunned down while riding home from school on a crowded public transit bus.  A teenager, seeking a rival gang member, boarded the bus and opened fire with a .40 caliber handgun.  Missing his intended target, the shooter struck Blair and two other female classmates. 

Upon enactment into law, “Blair’s Bill” would: (1) protect the public against the unreasonable risk of injury and death associated with the unrecorded sale or transfer of qualifying firearms to criminals and youth;  (2) ensure that owners of qualifying firearms are knowledgeable in the safe use, handling, and storage of those firearms;  (3) restrict the availability of qualifying firearms to criminals, youth, and other persons prohibited by Federal law from receiving firearms (mentally unstable, fugitives, addicts, dishonorably discharged military personnel, those subject to restraining orders); and (4) facilitate the tracing of qualifying firearms used in crime by Federal and State law enforcement.

Rush’s proposals deal mostly with handguns, though there has been a national outcry for an assault weapons ban. The veteran legislator said he wasn’t optimistic that the nation would such a ban anytime soon.

“I would be shocked and surprised if the Democrats and the Republicans in the House and the Senate would pass an assault weapons ban,” he said following Pendleton’s funeral.  “They don’t have it in their heart. … They do not care … about this kind of destruction.”

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