In a 5-4 decision handed down Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that gun buyers must disclose whether they have already entered into an agreement to resell the gun at the time of purchase.
The case, Abramski v. United States, began when Bruce Abramski was charged with lying on federal gun purchase forms for saying that he was the actual buyer of the gun, when he was in fact buying the Glock 19 handgun for his uncle.
While his uncle is also eligible to purchase guns, Abramski bought it for him because he thought that as a former police officer he would be given a discount. The form he filled out at the time of purchase states: “You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm to you.”
Police discovered the deception while investigating Abramski for an unrelated crime, and he was sentenced to five years in prison. A federal statute reads that it is unlawful to deceive gun sellers “with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale.” Abramski contended that the statute itself was “entirely unconcerned with straw arrangements” –buying a firearm on behalf of another while claiming that it is for oneself — because such arrangements are part of a “secondary market” that includes gifting and raffling off guns.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing the majority opinion alongside Justices Sonya Sotomayor, Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, disagreed: “Straw arrangements are not a part of the secondary market, separate and apart from the dealer’s sale. … The individual who sends a straw to a gun store to buy a firearm is transacting with the dealer, in every way but the most formal; and that distinguishes such a person from one who buys a gun, or receives a gun as a gift, from a private party.”
Writing for the dissent, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia responded that “the only thing which can justify that leap is the false imperative to make the statute as effective as possible, rather than as effective as the language indicates Congress desired. … The court makes it a federal crime for one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner. 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.”