Push for harsher penalties for "straw purchasers"

(CBS News) -- President Barack Obama wants tougher penalties for so-called straw purchases of guns -- that's when someone with a clean record buys a gun for someone else who can not pass a background check.

Stevie Marie Vigil
CBS News

Police say Stevie Marie Vigil bought the murder weapon used to kill Colorado prison chief Tom Clements.

Since she had no criminal record, Vigil passed a background check and bought the gun from a licensed dealer.

But then, police say, she passed the gun to Evan Ebel an ex-convict who was prohibited from buying or possessing a weapon.

The gun was found with Ebel after he died as a result of a car chase and shootout with police in Texas.

Dawn Nguyen at Henrietta Town Court, Jan 8, 2013, in Rochester, N.Y.
AP Photo/Guy Solimano

While Vigil has not been charged in the Clements murder, prosecutors say she broke the law by acting as a "straw purchaser" for Ebel.

And law enforcement officials say the case is not unusual. In Chicago -- a city flooded with guns and violence -- officials say straw purchasers provide a steady flow of weapons to gangs.

Danny Board is a veteran agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and says straw purchasers are criminals.

"They are the persons that actually start the cycle of violence," he said.

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Danny Board, veteran agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
CBS News

Ex-felon William Spengler shot the firemen and then killed himself using weapons he could not purchase. Two weeks ago 24 year-old Dawn Nguyen was charged for making straw purchases for Spengler.

She faces up to ten years in prison. But Agent Board says too often the penalties are too light.

Board said, in his experience, the penalties are probation or, at most, a year in prison.

A Senate bill that has passed committee would toughen the laws and increase the penalties for straw purchasers.

But it is not clear whether the bill can pass Congress.