The two assault-style rifles used in the San Bernardino terror attack were registered to Enrique Marquez, a friend of shooter Syed Farook. It’s not clear exactly how those guns wound up in the shooters’ hands. Buying guns from licensed dealers for someone else is illegal. “Straw purchasers” break the law by fraudulently filling out a form that says they’re the actual buyer, but they’re actually buying the gun for another person who might be avoiding a background check. Proving that scenario can be a challenge, NPR reports. “You have to get into the mind of the person who’s buying the gun and filling out the form,” says Michael Bouchard, a official of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “The tough part about this is, and the reason straw purchasers rarely get prosecuted is, because it’s in the eyes of the beholder.”
Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research says someone could claim ” ‘I have no idea how that person got that gun. They may have stolen it from my house,’ or ‘I sold it to someone else, and I don’t know who that person is.’ So it’s very difficult to pin someone down.” Licensed gun dealers are concerned that straw purchasers are rarely prosecuted, says Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “The law says that somebody could go to jail for up to 10 years and face a fine of up to $250,000. Why that doesn’t happen more often is a question for, you know, the federal judiciary and the Department of Justice,” Keane says.