It stands to reason that it would be a violation of federal gun laws for a person who could legally purchase firearms to buy guns for those who are legally prohibited from gun possession or ownership. However, a recent United States Supreme Court ruling holds that it is illegal for a person who is licensed to possess firearms to purchase guns for another person who is also licensed to possess firearms.
In Abramski v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that, despite obvious loopholes in federal gun legislation enacted by Congress, it is a federal crime for one lawful gun owner to purchase a gun for another lawful gun owner without disclosing that he or she is not the "true buyer" of the weapon.
The case began in 2009 when former police officer Bruce Abramski offered to buy a gun for his uncle, Angel Alvarez, using his expired police identification to get a discount on the gun. A few days before Abramski bought the gun, he received a $400 check from his uncle with "Glock 19" written in the memo line of the check.
Abramski went to buy the handgun for his uncle, but in filling out required forms, he did not disclose that he was not the ultimate purchaser of the gun.
The federal form asked, "Are you the actual transferee buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form? Warning: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you." Despite the fact that he was buying the gun for his uncle, Abramski responded, "Yes," indicating that he was the actual transferee buyer.
Initially, the sale proceeded without incident, but when Abramski was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a bank robbery, his falsification of the document was discovered. The former police officer was not charged in connection with the robbery, but he was charged and convicted of making false statements on the federal firearm form.
Abramski appealed, arguing that he was not a "straw purchaser" because he was legally purchasing a gun for another person who was likewise a licensed gun owner. His conviction was affirmed by the United States 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and now, it has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court.
Abramski's Petition for a Writ of Certiorari presented the following questions, noticing discrepancies in Circuit Court rulings about whether or not it is a violation of federal law to purchase a gun for another lawful gun owner:
- Is a gun buyer's intent to sell a ?rearm to another lawful buyer in the future a fact 'material to the lawfulness of the sale' of the ? rearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6)?
- Is a gun buyer's intent to sell a ?rearm to another lawful buyer in the future a piece of information 'required . . . to be kept' by a federally licensed ? rearm dealer under § 924(a)(1)(A).
Writing for the majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Elana Kegan said that knowing the "true buyer" of the gun is not just about preventing people from buying guns for those who cannot lawfully purchase or possess them, but also about helping law enforcement to trace guns to their ultimate buyers when investigating crimes.
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia scoffed at the semantics and said that Congress passed the firearms laws in order to keep guns from those who are prohibited from lawfully owning them and did not concern itself with the transfer of firearms between two people who are both legally permitted to purchase firearms. He said, "If I give my son $10 and tell him to pick up milk and eggs at the store, no English speaker would say that the store 'sells' the milk and eggs to me." However, that is exactly how the majority opinion has interpreted the straw purchaser laws.
Gun control advocates say that the ruling is a boon for public safety by keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. However, since Abramski v. United States dealt with the transfer of a weapon from one lawful gun owner to another, it seems unclear how the ruling has any bearing on keeping guns from violent felons.