Congress must act on gun trafficking

February 07, 2013

I direct the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and have been studying gun violence for more than 20 years. Much of my research has focused on illegal gun sales and acquisition and strategies to reduce the diversion of guns to criminals. The opinions stated in this letter are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Johns Hopkins University.

I support the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 ("Cummings to push bipartisan gun control bill," Feb. 4). Illegal gun trafficking is a major contributor to our nation's staggering rate of gun violence and why the rate of firearm homicides in the United States is 20 times higher than that of the average high-income country.

In the recently published book that I co-edited and contributed several chapters to, "Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis," experts identified numerous weaknesses in current federal gun laws. In one chapter of this book, renowned criminologist and gun trafficking expert Anthony Braga and Peter Gagliardi, a former ATF special agent, highlight the fact that ATF agents and federal prosecutors are limited in their capacity to combat gun trafficking, because there are no statutes specifically defining gun trafficking and making it a federal crime. Further, penalties for current violations related to trafficking (such as providing false information on an ATF form) are insufficient to deter gun trafficking and do not reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Although public support is mixed for some gun laws, there is widespread support among gun owners and non-gun-owners, regardless of party affiliation, for strengthening gun laws designed to keep guns from criminals and for better enforcement of gun laws. The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 would bolster federal law enforcement's ability to combat illegal gun trafficking that supplies guns to gangs and other violent criminals, and thereby help to curb gun violence in America.

Daniel W. Webster, Baltimore

The writer is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

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