Federal 'Straw Purchase' Gun Law Upheld by Supreme Court

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 16, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal gun law on "straw purchases" has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, preventing buyers from purchasing a gun just to transfer it to someone else.

In a 5-4 decision, the High Court determined that even if the ultimate recipient of the firearm is legally permitted to own a gun, federal laws intended to prevent sham transactions known as "straw purchases" are still valid, reports The Associated Press.

Can gun buyers still purchase guns as gifts without violating federal law?

Federal Law Intended to Prevent Guns in Wrong Hands

The case, Abramski v. United States, involved Bruce Abramski, who purchased a gun in Virginia using his police discount with the intention of transferring it to his uncle in Pennsylvania. On a form required by federal regulations, Abramski falsely answered that he was the "actual buyer" of the gun and was convicted for making false statements under this "straw purchaser" law (18 U.S.C. 922(a)(6)).

Abramski argued that the federal law wasn't concerned with "straw purchasers" and even if it was, his uncle could legally purchase a gun for himself.

Despite the fact that the federal law in question didn't contain the phrase "actual purchaser," the Supreme Court was convinced that Congress' intent with the entire statutory scheme of federal gun laws was to know who would eventually own them. In order to keep guns out of the hands of felons and prohibited buyers, it seems perfectly reasonable to prevent "straw purchasers" from concealing the actual purchaser, the Court explained.

After all, what would be the point of a gun background check if the actual purchaser could just avoid it by having a "straw" buyer pick up the gun?

Doesn't Matter If Actual Purchaser Is Legit

Abramski also weakly argued that, all lies on federal forms aside, what really matters is that the actual purchaser is legally allowed to own a gun. After all, Abramski's uncle could have purchased the gun legally on his own, but his nephew wanted to get him that sweet police discount. Justice Kagan, writing for the Court's majority, didn't buy it.

Even when the actual purchaser could legally own the gun, the straw purchaser is nonetheless preventing the gun dealer from complying with federal law which requires documenting the true owner and running a background check.

This "no harm no foul" logic wouldn't fly with using a sham buyer to purchase prescription drugs -- even with a valid prescription -- so why would it work with guns?

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