In Indiana, it is against the law to buy a gun only to sell or give it to someone who is a convicted felon.
Such “straw man” purchases are a common method for getting around state and federal gun-control laws.
But a loophole allows people to escape punishment if they already owned the weapon they gave or sold to a felon.
The gap is one of the targets of a bill that passed the Senate and was approved today by the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code.
The legislation, Senate Bill 169, would make such actions a crime with a sentencing range of one to six years. If the gun is used in a murder, however, the penalty would be enhance to 10 to 30 years. “Straw man” purchasers would face the same range of penalties.
The bill also allows judges to add up to 20 years to the sentence of a person convicted of “knowingly or intentionally” using a gun in the commission of a murder, kidnapping, criminal confinement or other felony that results in serious bodily injury.
“What we want to try to do is send a strong message to people who are giving guns to felons that you will be paying the price for your actions,” explained Sen. R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, one of the bill’s authors.
Young said he was motivated to toughen the law in the wake of the fatal shooting last year of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer Rod Bradway. His killer, who died in an exchange of gunfire with another officer, was a convicted felon who should not have had a gun. Investigators have not said if they know how the shooter obtained the gun used to kill Bradway.
“This guy was a felon, and he had a gun illegally,” Young said. “It seemed to me that we should also be punishing people who give guns to felons illegally.”
Besides felons, others prohibited from possessing firearms include people with mental illness or who are the subject of a domestic violence protective order.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard was among those who spoke in favor of the legislation, though he said it did not go far enough because it does not include mandatory minimum sentences for those who commit gun crimes.
“Too many times, people who’ve already committed violent gun crimes are being released after serving only a fraction of their prison sentence, then they go on to commit even more violent crimes,” Ballard said. “This is what has to stop.”
Criminals see the current weak penalties, combined with good-time credit programs that often allow them to be released from prison years early, as “just the cost of doing business,” the mayor said. “They are not a punishment, and they are not a deterrent.”
While Young and Ballard both advocated for closing loopholes and enhancing sentences, both backed away from the suggestion of requiring background checks for sales conducted at gun shows or between private individuals. Those loopholes are often cited by advocates for more accountability in gun sales.
Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, asked Young if requiring background checks also would help reduce the number of guns that get into the hands of criminals. Young didn’t directly answer but said that already is an option available to those who want to have a background check for their own protection.
Delaney also pressed Ballard on the pre-sale checks. If more sales went through background checks, Delaney said, more illegal deals would be caught.
“Do you,” Delaney pointedly asked Ballard, “support more background checks?”
“I’m here to ask for mandatory minimum sentences,” the mayor replied. “Right now, that’s it.”
Call Star reporter Tim Evans at (317) 444-62094. Follow him on Twitter: @starwatchtim