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Rep. Robin Kelly applauds SCOTUS decision banning 'straw-man purchases' of guns

Gun control advocates are applauding the response to today’s ruling before the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Abramski v. United States, across the country. The United States Supreme Court today upheld a federal statute that makes it a crime for one person to buy a gun for another while lying to the dealer about who the gun is for, in what is commonly known as a "straw-man purchase," in an opinion published by the Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced a ruling a case in a gun control case, Abramski v. United States, which upheld the banning of "straw-man purchases" of gun in any circumstances.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced a ruling a case in a gun control case, Abramski v. United States, which upheld the banning of "straw-man purchases" of gun in any circumstances.Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Court ruled that federal law makes it illegal to lie about being a straw purchaser on firearm background check paperwork, even if the eventual recipient would otherwise have been allowed to purchase a gun.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL), a leading advocate in Congress for "common sense gun reform legislation," issued a statement sent to the Chicago Examiner, in response to today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision cracking down on straw purchases of firearms.

"I applaud the U.S. Supreme Court for reaching a common sense decision and strengthening the federal law that bars straw purchases of firearms. Enforcing a strict prohibition on straw purchases is vital to ensuring that guns do not end up in the wrong hands,” Rep. Kelly said.

"Today’s ruling is an important step in combating our country’s gun violence epidemic. But Congress must do more to plug the gaps in federal law that allow dangerous people to obtain firearms, including expanding background checks for private sales and providing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with the necessary resources to stop straw purchases," added Rep. Kelly.

Rep. Kelly has pending legislation she has introduced legislation to prevent high-risk people from obtaining guns, implement firearm safety standards, recognize gun violence as a public health epidemic and provide funding for gang violence prevention efforts. One particular piece of innovative legislation introduced by Rep. Kelly, H.R.2465, will require the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service to submit to Congress an annual report on the effects of gun violence on public health.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also responded to the ruling. "The Supreme Court’s decision is a big victory for public safety and common sense. In the last five years, more than 1,500 guns made their way from just one suburban dealer to Chicago crime scenes. A person who buys a gun and arms a criminal is just as responsible as the person who pulls the trigger. Today’s decision makes it clear that purchasing a gun for someone else is a serious crime with deadly consequences. I applaud the court for upholding this law."

Lyle Denniston, a reporter for the SCOTUS blog, said that the ruling means that "An individual cannot walk into a gun dealer’s shop and buy a gun for someone else by claiming to be the actual buyer, a deeply split Supreme Court ruled on Monday. A form demanding to know who the actual purchaser is, the majority ruled, has to be answered truthfully, or else the transaction is illegal."

The reaction around the country was swift. Not only was this a great victory for gun control advocates, it was a stunning defeat for the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The Brady Center filed an amicus brief for the case, and was joined by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers in the brief in support of the current law banning all "straw purchases." The Brady Center has a long and rich history of inspired and strong leadership in the area of gun control.

Sarah Brady's husband, Jim Brady, who was President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, was shot on March 31, 1981 during the assassination attempt on the President. Jim suffered a serious head wound that left him partially paralyzed for life. Jim and Sarah joined the organization in the mid-eighties and have been fighting for sensible gun laws to protect you, your family and your community. In 2001, the organization was renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in honor of Jim and Sarah Brady for their commitment and courage to make America safer.

The Brady Center, a pro-gun control group that was started by Sarah Brady, called it a big victory. "The Supreme Court has upheld the ban on buying guns for other people. This is a big victory: buying for others ("straw purchasing") is one of the top ways criminals and people with criminal intent obtain guns without a Brady background check or a paper trail."

The Brady Center statement went on to say that they filed a brief in this case (Abramski v. United States), and that together they "won a big victory for public safety. But this ruling only covers sales at gun dealers. We need Congress to finish the job and require Brady background checks for all gun sales."

The SCOTUS ruling was also a stunning defeat for the National Rifle Association (NRA), as it has opposed all forms of gun control, including these types of laws, which are viewed as "common sense legislation."

The majority opinion of 5-4, was written by Justice Elena Kagan who said the law helps keeps guns out of the hands of those not legally able to buy them, including those with mental illness or previous felony convictions. However, the "straw-man purchase" of the gun was for a person that would have been able to purchase the gun on his or her own.

The ruling essentially says that it is never ok to lie on a federal form, that if an exception were made in one case, it would have to be made in another.

The federal statute considers a "straw-man purchase," and the person who does it is called a "straw buyer." A man named Bruce Abramski, who was a former policeman who bought a Glock 19 handgun in Collinsville, Virginia, in 2009, for his uncle, challenged the statute.

During the transaction, Bruce Abramski answered Question 11.a on the form, "yes," on a federal form asking, "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."

The NRA got involved with the case, filing a "friend of the court" brief against this "common sense legislation." The NRA has vehemently opposed this law on the federal and state level, and has been fighting to have the "straw-man purchase" laws overturned for years. The NRA felt this was their opportunity, since the defendant was making the purchase on behalf of a person that was legally entitled to make the purchase.

Justice Kagan in her opinion said it made no difference. "No piece of information is more important under federal firearms law than the identity of a gun’s purchaser—the person who acquires a gun as a result of a transaction with a licensed dealer," wrote Kagan.

"Had Abramski admitted that he was not that purchaser, but merely a straw—that he was asking the dealer to verify the identity of, and run a back- ground check on, the wrong individual—the sale here could not have gone forward," said Kagan in denying Bruce Abramski's claim.

The NRA also supported Bruce Abramski's challenge to the conviction, and justified that it is ok to lie on a federal form. In their brief, the NRA claimed that Congress's gun regulations are only intended "to prevent individuals from purchasing firearms on behalf of a prohibited person," and that the on the form, Question 11.a, exceeds the intent of lawmakers by preventing the transfer of guns between two legally-entitled individuals.

The law does not make that distinction. Bruce Abramski later transferred the ownership of the gun to his uncle in Easton, Pennsylvania. After the "straw-man purchase," Abramski was charged with violating the law after he falsely checked "yes" on the federal form asserting that he was the actual buyer.

In this case, the reason for the "straw-man purchase, “was so that Bruce Abramski could get a discount for his uncle, by showing his old police ID. This, in spite of the fact that his uncle could have legally purchased the gun.

The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, and supported by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. In effect, the dissent justified providing false information on a federal form.

Scalia called the discrepancy in the law an "ambiguity," and Scalia claimed at the end of his dissent "we resolve ambiguity in those statutes in favor of the accused. This time, Scalia was outnumbered on the Court by the narrowest of margins.