US Supreme Court hears case about firearms purchases

On January 22, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Abramski v. U.S., a case dealing with “straw man” firearms purchases. The matter at issue in the case is whether it is illegal under federal law to purchase a gun with the intent to give it to another person who may legally own a gun.

Alleged violation of federal gun laws

The issue before the Court results from a purchase of a handgun that a Virginia resident made in November 2009. The man learned that his uncle wanted a 9mm Glock handgun, and offered to purchase the gun for his uncle because the man could get it at a discount as a former police officer. He purchased the gun in Virginia, and indicated on the federal background check paperwork that he was the “actual buyer” of the gun. He then drove to his uncle’s house in Pennsylvania; subsequently, he and his uncle went to a federal firearms licensee in order to complete the transfer of the gun, in accordance with federal requirements for transferring firearms across state lines. His uncle completed the background check paperwork and got his transfer approved.

In June 2010, the man was arrested on suspicion of burglary. Police searched his home during his arrest and found a receipt for $400 from his uncle for the gun. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms pursued a case against the man for knowingly making a “false material statement” on an ATF form because he stated on the initial purchase form that he was the “actual buyer” when he always intended to sell the gun to his uncle. The government claimed this violated federal laws preventing “straw man” firearms purchases.

The man moved to dismiss the indictment, claiming that because he legally transferred the gun he never made any false statements to the ATF. The trial court denied the motion, holding that the man did not disclose the fact he intended to sell the gun to his uncle and that was a material fact he should have shared. The man entered a conditional guilty plea, and the court sentenced him to a $200 fine and five years of probation. The man appealed, and the appellate court upheld the trial court’s holding.

Interpreting federal gun laws

The man is arguing that federal firearms laws about “straw man” purchasers, where a person buys firearms on behalf of another, were not intended to prevent a person from buying a gun on behalf of another person who can legally purchase a gun. Instead, they are supposed to prevent people from selling guns to those who are not allowed to own guns under federal law. Since his uncle could have purchased the gun himself, the man argues that he did not violate the law.

Speak with an attorney

The case before the Court shows how seriously federal authorities take firearms offenses, as well as how easy it is to potentially violate federal firearms laws. If you are facing charges related to gun purchases or possession, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help defend your rights.