The Validity of "Straw Man" Gun Sales Goes to Supreme Court

By:  Bob Adelmann
01/23/2014
       
The Validity of "Straw Man" Gun Sales Goes to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court justices recently heard oral arguments in a case where it will be decided if someone can purchase a gun on behalf of another person — a straw man gun purchase. 

On Wednesday the Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in Abramski v. United States, a case that, except for a miscarriage of justice, probably wouldn't have been heard at all. 

At issue is whether Congress intended to have the Gun Control Act of 1968 keep guns out of the hands of criminals through requiring background checks of individuals purchasing guns, but not allow law-abiding individuals to purchase guns for someone else. It was a loophole in the law that various courts tried to plug by creating a “straw man” doctrine, which was later codified into law. In 1995, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) modified its Form 4473 to say that such straw man purchases were illegal on their face and wouldn't be permitted.

In a strange case that grew out of an illegal search, a former law-enforcement officer, Bruce Abramski, was found to have purchased a Glock 19 for his uncle, taking advantage of a “discount” offered by gun dealers to active and former law-enforcement officers.

Abramski consulted with three different gun dealers near where he lived in Virginia to make sure he could make the purchase legally, even though his uncle lived in Pennsylvania. After being advised that he could, he deposited the check he received from his uncle in the amount of $400 (a significant discount from the retail price of the pistol). On the check, on the memo line, was written the words “Glock 19 handgun.” He then went to a local dealer, completed the Form 4473, paid for the gun, left the store with it, and drove to Pennsylvania to see his uncle. Together they went to another gun dealer to complete the transfer, with his uncle successfully passing his background check.

When Abramski’s residence was searched — without a warrant — in an unrelated criminal investigation (in which Abramski was exonerated), a receipt outlining the transfer was found. An investigation followed, Abramski was charged with lying on the Form 4473, and convicted. He appealed, and his case is now in front of the Supreme Court.

Here is the language that tripped him up, taken directly from the Form 4473:

Question 11.a: “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form? If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you.” (See Instructions for Question 11.a.)

Those instructions were clear:

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