In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a federal rule banning “straw purchases” of guns. This means that one person cannot buy a gun for the sole purpose of giving or reselling it to another person. The purpose of the law is, actually two fold. First, this is part of the system that law enforcement uses in criminal investigations to trace guns back their owners. Second, it is one way to keep guns out of the hands of people who are not eligible to have them under existing laws.
Writing for the majority, in Abranski v. U.S. Justice Kagan said
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.
Justice Scalia joined by Roberts, Thomas and Alito in dissent, wrote: ”The Court makes it a federal crime for one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner,” he wrote. “Whether or not that is a sensible result, the statutes Congress enacted do not support it — especially when, as is appropriate, we resolve ambiguity in those statutes in favor of the accused.”
This case began when a former police officer, Bruce James Abranski, bought a glock in Virginia and later transferred the gun to his uncle. Abranski falsely indicated on a federal form that he was the “actual buyer” even though he had already agreed to buy the gun for his uncle.
The form also contained the following 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 firearms(s) to you.”
Later, police arrested Abranski because they thought he was involved in a bank robbery. Although no charges were laid in relation to the bank robbery, Abranski was charged with making false statements about the purchase of the gun.
Abranski argued that he wasn’t a straw buyer because his uncle was eligible to buy a gun – an argument supported by the NRA which had previously resisted legislative efforts to crack down on straw purchases.
The problem with Abranski’s argument is that his false statement prevented the gun dealer from insisting that the actual buyer fulfill legal requirements including appearing in person with proper ID and submitting to a background check. Then there’s the fact that the form stated clearly that since he was buying the gun for another person, he was not the actual buyer.
The dissenting opinion overlooked the fact that a ruling in Abranski’s favor would make law enforcement’s job harder.
The dissenting opinion also overlooks the reality that straw purchases could initially involve someone buying a gun for someone who is eligible to have that gun, but that doesn’t anticipate the possibility of that gun then being sold or given to someone who isn’t eligible, under existing laws, to have a gun. In fact, one of the NRA’s complaints regarding penalties for straw purchases as proposed in the 2013 gun legislation debate was the original owner could be held liable for the intention of parties far down the chain of possession.
The ruling was welcomed by the Chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA).
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a commonsense law that helps keep guns away from those we all agree shouldn’t have them. Criminals, domestic abusers, and those with a history of serious mental illness should not be able to send a straw person into a gun store to pass a background check and buy a firearm on their behalf. This practice exploits a loophole in our criminal background check system and the court was right to keep it closed.
The fact is this ruling will prevent the calamity that would have made law enforcement’s job impossible and it seals shut one of the many loopholes through which people who shouldn’t have guns gain access to them. It may be a bad day for the NRA, but it is a good day for Americans who reject the idea that one person’s “right” to own a gun is more important than another person’s right to live.