Our opinion: Chasing straw purchases

After serving 17 years in prison for killing his grandmother, William Spengler shouldn’t have had access to firearms; and yet, he did.

Spengler obtained a .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle and a shotgun through a “straw purchase” arranged by his neighbor. In the realm of straw purchases this one was particularly overt. According to law enforcement officials, Spengler walked into a gun store with the neighbor, Dawn Nguyen, picked out the guns he wanted, and she filled out the necessary paperwork and bought them.

Two-and-a-half years later, one of them was used to kill two firefighters and wound two others.

Ms. Nguyen’s first response in an interview with investigators was that she had purchased the guns for personal protection, but they were stolen from her car. However, she hadn’t reported the theft.

Later, she owned up to the straw purchase.

Her first response was typical for someone whose straw purchase of a weapon was for someone prohibited from owning one.

Pennsylvania enacted a straw purchase law this fall, but it only provides for a mandatory sentence for someone who is found guilty of multiple offenses. The law was passed following the shooting of a down-state police officer with a weapon that was acquired by his assailant through a straw purchase. The gun was one of nine transacted in that fashion.

There was another bill in the legislature that dealt with straw purchases that didn’t get the same treatment. It would have required the reporting of lost or stolen firearms to police within a reasonable period of time. After all, why wouldn’t someone report the loss or theft of a fairly valuable asset?

The NRA-ILA screamed about encroachment on the Second Amendment, and the bill died.

Meanwhile, more than two dozen municipalities in the state, whose councils are fed up with the flow of guns into the hands of criminals and have been frustrated by the state’s refusal to act on the lost-or-stolen issue, enacted their own lost-or-stolen gun laws.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, thinks that’s just awful and has introduced legislation that would open those municipalities to legal action if someone feels aggrieved by the local ordinance. In fact, in Metcalfe’s words, he introduced the bill “to stop little tyrants at the local level from enacting their own gun control measures….I’d personally like to put elected officials who violate the law in jail.”

If Dawn Nguyen had, indeed, reported the weapons stolen, one might expect the police to suspect the convicted murderer who lived next door, and two firemen might not have been laid to rest last week.

And, knowing that, she would have thought twice about making the purchase in the first place.