WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in announcing a bill Tuesday to combat weapons trafficking, an issue he said is personal.
“It is a painful thing to see your blood splattered on the walls of an apartment,” Cummings said, speaking of his nephew, Christopher Cummings, who was fatally shot in June 2011. “When I think about my nephew, I know he would be so proud of us here today.”
He espoused the importance of working across partisan lines and “reaching higher ground” in light of the recent tragedies in Newtown, Conn., where 20 school children were killed by a lone gunman, and Webster, N.Y., where two firefighters were ambushed and killed.
The bill, the first bipartisan measure of its kind in the House of Representatives, creates a federal law prohibiting the purchase or transfer of weapons intended for recipients who may not possess a gun, such as felons.
The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 also strengthens punishments for those found to have lied about the intended recipients of purchased guns, so-called “straw purchasers.”
Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was joined by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Patrick Meehan, R-Pa. and Scott Rigell, R-Va, in announcing the bill, a similar version of which was introduced in the Senate last week.
“It punishes the bad guys and protects the good guys, and that’s just common sense,” said Rigell, an National Rifle Association member and self-described sportsman.
The bill, which is supported by dozens of law enforcement associations, will not impact the rights of legal gun owners, the lawmakers stressed repeatedly.
Law enforcement officials, including several from Maryland, were on hand for the event and lent their support.
“We have people who are legally purchasing guns and handing them over, selling them, to the criminals,” said Col. Marcus L. Brown, superintendent of the Maryland State Police after the event.
“This is exactly what this bill will stop. It’s really what law enforcement has been screaming for.”
Guns travel into Maryland from surrounding states, Brown said, and have been used to kill police officers and firefighters. The bill aims to stem this flow of weapons.
Baltimore City’s newly-minted Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was scheduled to speak at the event but needed to remain in Baltimore to attend to issues surrounding the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl victory parade, a Cummings spokeswoman said.
And while there were no reports of gun violence at the parade, three people were stabbed, one fatally.
The bill’s authors will now start the process of finding other co-sponsors.
Its Republican authors did not consult with their leadership about the bill, they said, but are confident that it will draw support.
“I found our leadership to be open to very good ideas,” Rigell said.
Comments made today by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., “clearly opened the door” for meaningful gun control legislation, Cummings said. Cantor said he would support tighter background checks for gun purchases.
Gun control legislation is Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s top priority for the 2013 General Assembly session.
O’Malley is pushing for a ban on assault weapons, limits on magazine capacity, stricter licensing requirements for handguns and age restrictions on gun ownership.
He also called for improved mental health treatment and information sharing, as well as investment in school security upgrades, in his “State of the State” address on Jan. 30.
“We lose far too many American lives to gun violence,” O’Malley said. “Who can watch the sad images of the last several weeks, who can see the pictures of those young faces, and honestly say that we are doing enough?”