The Supreme Court, in a close 5 to 4 ruling, handed gun-control advocates a victory this week by ruling that so-called “straw” purchases of guns – the acquisition of a firearm with the intent to transfer to another party – is illegal.
Writes The Associated Press on June 16, via MSN News: “The ruling settles a split among appeals courts over federal gun laws intended to prevent sham buyers from obtaining guns for the sole purpose of giving them to another person. The laws were part of Congress' effort to make sure firearms did not get into the hands of unlawful recipients.”
The justices ruled in majority favor and made the buy-and-transfer transaction illegal, even if the ultimate buyer or acquirer of the gun has every right to own one.
The litigation was based on the case of a former Virginian police officer named Bruce James Abramski, Jr., who back in 2009 legally purchased a Glock 19 in Collinsville, Virginia, and then later transferred it to his uncle in Pennsylvania. Abramski had duped the dealer into thinking he was the sole buyer and owner, even using his expired police credentials to get a discount, though he had every intention of turning the weapon over to his uncle. Abramski received a check from his uncle for $400, and his uncle had even written “Glock 19 handgun” on the memo line of the check.
The federal form that is required to be filled out at the time of a gun purchase asks:
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.
Abramski lied and answered “yes.” He was later arrested.
The NY Daily News wrote of the Supreme Court’s decision:
The decision split the court along familiar ideological lines, though it has no direct bearing on the Second Amendment right to own guns. It settles a split among appeals courts over federal gun laws intended to prevent sham buyers from obtaining guns for the sole purpose of giving them to another person. The laws were part of Congress’ effort to make sure firearms did not get into the hands of unlawful recipients.
The AP gave the majority justice’s opinion on the ruling:
Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan said the federal government's elaborate system of background checks and record-keeping requirements help law enforcement investigate crimes by tracing guns to their buyers. Those provisions would mean little, she said, if a would-be gun buyer could evade them by simply getting another person to buy the gun and fill out the paperwork.
“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,” Kagan said.
In dissent was Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia. The National Rifle Association, along with 26 states, submitted a brief to the Supreme Court supporting their position that the “government wrongly interpreted the law and improperly expanded the scope of gun regulations,” while nine states joined the Obama administration in support of the ruling.
“This is a very big and very positive decision that will save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Justice Scalia said the law does not properly define the act of illegality, saying that if the Glock was purchased with the intent to be “gifted” or given away as some sort of prize raffle, that would have been acceptable.
“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,” Scalia said.
Kagan responded with her own analogy: “If I send my brother to the Apple Store with money and instructions to purchase an iPhone, and then take immediate and sole possession of that device, am I the ‘person’ (or ‘transferee’) who has bought the phone or is he? Nothing in ordinary English usage compels an answer either way.”