Monday, January 23, 2023

Straw men... and women.

Kevin D. Williamson's latest at The Dispatch is, alas, paywalled. It's absolutely spot on, though.
"Prosecutors at all levels—from local yokels up to the feds—are notoriously loath to prosecute ordinary straw-buyer cases. If there’s a big, juicy, organized-crime case to be made against gun traffickers, that’s another story: For example, the feds were very happy to bust up an Illinois-based gun-trafficking ring involving U.S. military personnel who were acting as full-time straw buyers for Chicago’s infamous Gangster Disciplines, an old-school crime syndicate that has been operating in Illinois since the 1960s. And they should be busting those guys.

But most straw-buyer cases don’t look like that. Most straw buyers are girlfriends or family members of convicted criminals and other prohibited persons, and most straw purchases involve one firearm. (Or so seems to be the consensus; again, real data are difficult to find.) Straw buyers who get charged with the crime are, by definition, almost always first-time offenders, and many of them are sympathetic subjects: Did we really expect that 23-year-old mother of three to tell the felon who is the father of her children and upon whom she is financially dependent to go jump in Lake Michigan when he ordered her to go buy him a pistol? We do not instinctively want to put such offenders in prison—but that is who a great many straw buyers are.

(Similarly, try putting yourself in the place of a firearms retailer, a businessman who already has a target on his back, politically speaking—in the age of “woke” moral panic, how assertive are you going to be about somebody you suspect of being a straw buyer? Short of her preemptively confessing to the crime, are you going to tell a young black woman shopping for a 9mm semiautomatic with her boyfriend that you think she is not a prospective customer but a prospective criminal? This is your family’s livelihood, and the same people who want to put you out of business for selling guns at all will be happy to try to put you out of business on grounds of racial discrimination, however vaguely attested to. I have spoken to firearms dealers who have gone forward with sales they believed to be straw purchases precisely for that reason.)
In all my years of working in the retail firearms biz, I'm only aware of the feds going after one straw buyer, and it was because guns he'd purchased here in the U.S. turned up in cartel hands after he'd traded them for dope. Come to think of it, he was the only big-time straw buyer I was ever aware of, and we just thought he was a guy with a good-paying job and a taste for oddball tacticool-looking guns like SPAS-12s and such.

I've turned down plenty of purchases that my spider sense told me were straw purchases, a lot of them really obvious ones and some that were more subtle. But I can see why some folks would be leery of doing so in this day and age, for exactly the reason Kevin highlighted.