The debate surrounding the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” rages on, and while the Federal Government may take steps in the coming months to curb the sale and availability of firearms, local authorities, especially in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties have already taken action to find and prosecute the illegal transfer of firearms from one person to another know as "straw purchases" by people referred to as "straw purchasers."
A straw purchase is a common term used to refer to the illegal transfer of a firearm from one individual to another. In a typical scenario, a straw purchase happens when a person legally buys a gun and then gives, or sells, that gun to another person without following rules concerning the transfer of the firearm. In many cases, the gun ends up in the hands of someone who is not permitted to possess a gun under Pennsylvania law. (For a list of criminal convictions that can prohibit someone from possessing a firearm, even for hunting purposes, read our blog about Section 6105 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code).
There are three different (and sometimes inconsistent) bodies of law that apply to the transfer or purchase of a firearm: Federal, State, and Local. Officer Fox was murdered by a gun that was involved in a straw purchase. The killer had made numerous straw purchases of guns prior to the murder of the officer. The other person involved in these straw purchases was arrested, charged, and that Philadelphia man was sentenced to 22 to 66 years in prison.
Tragic events like school shooting at Sandy Hook and Officer Fox's death have drawn attention to straw purchases. Five or ten years ago, prosecutions for this crime were rare, but that is no longer the case. In Philadelphia, the District Attorney's Office has created a specialized unit to handle and prosecute these types of crimes. The unit consists of veteran prosecutors and detectives who are well adept at finding person who have made straw purchases and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law. (For information about the GunStat Initiative, read our blogs about that Program here and here).