Skip to comments.Argument preview: Checking up on gun buyers
Posted on 01/22/2014 6:08:10 PM PST by marktwain
One of the strongest debates over guns in American society continues over the claim of Second Amendment protection for firearms owners. The Supreme Court, however, has resisted spelling out the actual reach of that right in the more than five years since it first ruled that the Amendment protects a personal right to have a gun, at least for self-defense. The Court, though, has been working on a series of side issues of gun control, and will do so again in the new case of Abramski v. United States.
Even though there is now a constitutional right to have a gun, there are categories of people who are not entitled to have a gun at all such as convicted felons. Thus, licensed gun dealers need to know who is buying a gun in order to know whether they are eligible to have it.
To deal with that situation, Congress has made it a federal crime for anyone who attempts to buy a gun or ammunition from a licensed gun dealer to make any false statement that might deceive the dealer about whether such a sale would be legal. That is commonly known as the straw purchaser law, designed to discourage buyers from getting around bans on individuals access to a gun.
Federal officials have created a form Form 4473 that must be filed with the dealer at the time of a gun purchase. One of the questions seeks a Yes or No answer to this: Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm listed on this form? The form notes that the individual is not the actual buyer if he is buying it for someone else. Thus, only actual buyers can purchase the specified gun.
The reach of that law and the government forms coverage are now being tested in the Supreme Court by Bruce James Abramski, Jr., of Rocky Mount, Virginia with support from the National Rifle Association and other gun owners groups.
A former state police officer, Abramski got caught up mistakenly in a federal investigation of a bank robbery in Rocky Mount in 2009, apparently because he was said to look like the bank robber, although the robber was masked. Abramski was ultimately cleared of any role in the bank robbery and of any federal charges related to the robbery.
However, during the federal investigation of Abramski, FBI agents searched his former residence in Rocky Mount. That search turned up a receipt that his uncle, Angel Alvarez, had written to him for buying a Glock 19 handgun.
Federal prosecutors later said that Abramski, at his uncles request, had bought the Glock from a dealer in Collinsville, Virginia, who catered to police officers seeking guns. He allegedly completed the government form, saying yes to the question about whether he was the actual buyer. His uncle had sent him a $400 check for the weapon, the government said. The gun was later transferred to his uncle, according to prosecutors, through a firearms dealer in Easton, Pennsylvania.
A grand jury accused Abramski of making a false statement about being the actual buyer of the Glock. Under a plea bargain, he agreed to plead guilty to two charges of making false statements, conditioning his plea on his ability to appeal to challenge the validity of the charges against him. He was placed on probation for five years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld his conviction.
Abramskis lawyers took the case to the Supreme Court, raising two questions: whether it violates the straw purchaser law to buy a gun for someone else, when the other person is actually legally eligible to possess a gun; and whether gun dealers are required to keep in their records the information that a buyer intends to sell the gun to another legal buyer.
1. If the sale is to another legal buyer, then there is no harm, and no problem.
2. Congress never authorize all the little changes in the 4473 that BATFE has added over the years, including the one that says I intend to buy the gun for myself only.
The instructions are quite clear that it’s permissible to buy a gun as a gift for someone else, unless you know them to be prohibited, and that in doing so, you should still answer “yes”.
The only difference between that scenario and this is that it wasn’t a gift, he was reimbursed. Now I can’t see why that should make any difference, unless the thinking is that real straw purchases could never be done as gifts, but only as resale. (IOW, what straw purchaser is going to buy 50 guns for others if he not only is not going to make a profit but is going to have to pay for all of them out of his own pocket)
I agree that the straw purchase penalty should not apply to a purchaser who is planning to later transfer the firearm to another who the purchaser knows to be an honest person & under no legal disability to possess a firearm. A lot of parents buy a .22 rifle or a youth shotgun that will be gifted to a son or daughter. I bought a trap style shotgun for my soon to be son in law as a pre wedding present. He was an adult and was well known to me as a person with no legal problems
The penalty of the wrongful transfer should only apply when the buyer knows, or facts show should have reasonably known that the recipient could not own or possess a firearm.
The transfer in this case was through a federal firearms license. It was not even a strict private sale.
He bought the gun for his uncle, then transferred it to the uncle through an FFL.
Gift or sale, that shouldn’t be the difference as what is the real violation is knowingly transferring to a prohibited person. As long as it is an occasional sale, not so often the buyer should become an FFL dealer, no penalty.
Yep. I’m surprised by how many FReepers are okay with having to obtain permission from their federal masters before buying a gun.
Both sides argue that their interpretation is the intent of congress.
Yet neither side ever quotes or refers to quotes of congressional statements or debates to support that claim.
Seems awfully stupid behavior for an important case.
I think the ATF is an obscenity, and wouldn't shed a tear if an earthquake swallowed their entire DC office.
Now that I have read the arguments, I am more optomistic about the case. The BATFE interpreted the statute the way the defendant argues from the time of the passage of the law until 1994, for 26 years. Then, under the Clinton regime, they arbitrarily changed their interpretation of the law to the current one, and have operated under that interpretation for the last 19 years.
They admit that they made an interpretive change without a change in the statute.
One of the larger gunshops in the area was shut down because of a “straw purchase” sting by the BATF. They have a LOT of latitude on what they can charge.
Originally, they charged the gunshop owner with 30 years or so of crimes. Later they offered to cut it to about 7 years if he pleaded guilty (serving all charges concurrently). He decided to take his chance with a jury. Just before the trial was about to start, they offered him a one-year and one-day sentence with all or most of it suspended. He decided to take the offer. Now he is out of business, which is probably what they wanted all along.