WASHINGTON, D.C.- United States of America - A Supreme Court decision on 16 June 2014 has allowed prosecution under a federal law that requires gun buyers to disclose that they are making their purchase for someone else, even if both the straw buyer and the real buyer are eligible to own guns.
Federal law makes it a crime to make a false statement to a firearms dealer about the intended recipient of the gun. (Photo Courtesy of USA Today)
The decision upheld a federal law that makes it a crime for one person to buy a gun for another, when the purchaser lies to the dealer about who the gun is actually for. Federal law considers this a straw-man purchase.
The 5-4 decision upheld two lower courts that had ruled against straw-man purchases, despite the fact that the justices acknowledged that Congress left loopholes in gun control laws that were passed in the 1960’s and the 1990’s.
The case came before the Supreme Court after a former Virginia police officer, Bruce Abramski, plead guilty to making a false statement when purchasing a firearm. Abramski was sentenced to five years of probation
Abramski, bought the handgun for his uncle, Angel Alvarez, who lived in Pennsylvania at the time. When purchasing the handgun, Abramski filled out a federal form indicating that he was buying the gun for himself. Abramski defended his actions by stating that he assumed that by showing his old police ID he would receive a discount from the dealer.
Richard Deitz, Abramski’s attorney, argued that when the federal law was enacted Congress had intended to focus only on the initial buyer. “Congress didn’t use terms like ‘true buyer’ or ‘true purchaser’…because they are not concerned about the ultimate recipients of firearms.” Dietz said.
The Court was split along ideological lines. Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan rejected Mr. Abramski’s argument that his misstatement had been immaterial because the purpose of the federal law was solely to ensure that the immediate buyer was eligible to own a gun.
She wrote, “Abramski’s reading would undermine-indeed, for all important purposes would virtually repeal- the gun law’s core provisions.” Justice Kagan said that the law helps keep guns out of the hands of those not legally able to buy them, including those suffering from mental illnesses or those with previous felony convictions. Justice Kagan passionately wrote, “putting true numbskulls to one side, anyone purchasing a gun for criminal purposes would avoid leaving a paper trail by the simple expedient of hiring a straw.”
The dissenting justices said that the federal law in question makes no distinction between people who purchased guns for themselves and buyers who intended to purchase for later resale. Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion made specific mention of the legality of purchasing guns as gifts or for later resale.
This is the second decision this term by the conservative court that went against the gun lobby.