Burlington County Legislator Wants To Increase Penalties For Stealing Guns, Soliciting 'Straw Purchases'

Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, introduced the two measures on Monday, saying they send a message of “zero tolerance” to criminals who attempt to illegally obtain a gun in New Jersey.

TRENTON — State Sen. Troy Singleton has introduced two gun bills to increase the punishment of people who either steal guns or illegally solicit someone to purchase a firearm for them.

Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, introduced the measures Monday, saying they send a message of “zero tolerance” to criminals who attempt to illegally obtain a gun in New Jersey.

His first bill would make it a third-degree crime punishable by between three and five years in prison to solicit another to buy a gun for someone disqualified from possessing or purchasing one.

These types of “straw purchases” are a common tactic of gun traffickers, who are frequently the source of firearms used in crimes in New Jersey.

During the first quarter of 2018, 77 percent of the guns recovered from crimes in New Jersey were traced and found to have come from another state, according to the New Jersey State Police.

In addition, the legislation mandates that the penalty for soliciting a straw purchase cannot be merged with the penalty for a related or unrelated crime.

“We have to close every loophole that allows illegal guns to move through and ravage our communities,” Singleton said in a statement. “This proposal amends our current law so that when someone obtains a gun illegally, it becomes an even more serious offense — one that cannot be merged with another penalty — which could mean an additional five years in prison.”

The second bill would seek to increase the penalty for theft of a firearm by eliminating the presumption of non-imprisonment for those found guilty.

Singleton has previously taken a strong interest in legislation aimed at cracking down on the illegal gun trade.

In 2013, when he served in the Assembly, he penned anti-firearms-trafficking legislation that increased the penalty for people convicted of trafficking by mandating they serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentences. It also permitted authorities to seize and apply for forfeiture of motor vehicles used to transport illegal guns, and boosted the penalties for dealers who knowingly sell firearms to “straw purchasers” who intend to transfer the weapons to people banned from ownership.

The legislation was one of only a few gun measures that Gov. Chris Christie signed into law, and it also was one of the few that was supported by gun owner groups and advocates for stricter gun controls.

Singleton hopes the two new measures will receive similar support.

“I have long sought and fought for tougher action against the proliferation of illegal guns in our communities,” he said. “I think these proposals will allow those with disparate positions on the gun issue to find common ground around the idea that our streets are safer when we keep firearms out of the wrong hands.”

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