Legislation creating a felony for straw purchases of guns has received a hearing at the Capitol, but some aren’t convinced it’s the answer to gun crimes. James Fendry with Wisconsin Pro-Gun Movement supports the bill, but suggests a change in sentencing guidelines for the existing misdemeanor laws against straw purchases may be in order. “Some of the people who are purchasing guns for those who they know cannot purchase them legally, are so squeaky clean, that when you get them into court, even if convicted, not much is going to happen,” Fendry told the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice. “They’re going to walk.”

AUDIO: Jim Fendry (4:00 MP3) AUDIO: Jim Fendry (4:00 MP3)

Lieutenant Jason Smith with the Milwaukee Police Department testified in a favor of the bill, which would make it a felony to knowingly buy a gun for an individual prohibited from having one. Smith says even a federal felony charge is no guarantee of a long prison term. “The person that straw purchased the gun that shot my two officers on the South Side recently (the June 2009 shootings of officers Graham Kunisch and Brian Norberg), it’s a ten year maximum,” said Smith. “We asked, we begged for that maximum, and we had both those officers sitting there. He got two years. The majority of those cases go probation. That’s why we want a state felony charge, so that we have control of this.”

AUDIO: Lt. Jason Smith (12:30 MP3) AUDIO: Lt. Jason Smith (12:30 MP3)

A member of the committee, State Representative Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee), is also a former circuit court judge who presided over many gun crime trials. Kessler has misgivings about creating a felony for straw purchases. “We are creating many new felonies this session, and every time we do that, we potentially increase the prison population,” Kessler said. “If people are getting the maximum, and that’s not discouraging people, then I don’t have any problems increasing the penalty. But if right now they’re just being placed on probation, then I’m really wondering, why are we doing this?”

“Forty dollars was the motivation to straw purchase (the gun which was used to shoot Kunisch and Norberg) said MPD’s Smith. “The threat of a misdemeanor was what didn’t prevent it.” The bill (AB 753) also would also make it a felony to knowingly receive any stolen gun. Under current law, that may only be a misdemeanor, depending on the gun’s value.

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