US Supreme Court struggling to define ‘straw purchase’


Lee’s note: The United States Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about a case that could redefine the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

At its heart is the definition of a “straw purchase.”

It began when former Virginia police officer Bruce Abramski bought a Glock 19, with an LEO discount, and then sold it to his uncle. The Feds pounced.

Second Amendment supporters believe that a majority of justices will ultimately support Abramski, and consider his actions a private sale rather than a straw purchase, until there’s a written decision anything’s possible.

Here’s a USA Today story that’s actually pretty well reported:

Did Congress intend to crack down on dealerships or follow guns to their ultimate destination?


Richard Wolf, USA TODAY 7:35 p.m. EST January 22, 2014

WASHINGTON — A Supreme Court that seeks to keep guns away from dangerous individuals supcostruggled Wednesday to interpret a congressional statute that some said fails to accomplish its goal.

The case, and the justices’ ultimate ruling, pose a threat to the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Provisions of those laws were intended to prevent the “straw” purchases of guns for other buyers.

It appeared that a slim majority of justices might assume that Congress meant to guard against those purchases even if the original law contains loopholes. Otherwise, Justice Elena Kagan said, “it does not matter whether the ultimate transferee was Al Capone or somebody else.”

In this case, the straw purchaser was a former Virginia police officer who bought a Glock 19 handgun for his uncle in Pennsylvania. Both were legal gun owners. But the initial purchaser, Bruce James Abramski, filled out a federal form indicating that he was the “actual buyer” of the firearm.

His attorney, Richard Dietz, argued that a compromise reached in Congress decades ago was meant to focus only on the initial buyer. Even if it did intend to identify the ultimate purchaser, he said, Abramski didn’t violate the law because his uncle was licensed to own guns.

“Congress didn’t use terms like ‘true buyer’ or ‘true purchaser’ or ‘actual buyer’ because they are not concerned about the ultimate recipients of firearms or what happens to a gun after it leaves the gun store,” Dietz said.

Some of the more conservative justices agreed that a literal reading of the statute supports Dietz’s argument. Several liberal justices — joined by conservative Justice Samuel Alito — said that cannot have been Congress’ intent.

“What you’re saying is they did a meaningless thing,” Alito said in reference to the provision covering straw purchases. “That was the compromise — they would do something that’s utterly meaningless.”

The Justice Department, seeking to uphold two lower court rulings against Abramski, argued that Congress always sought to identify the ultimate gun purchasers.

Assistant Solicitor General Joseph Palmore acknowledged that Congress mainly wanted to stop unregulated sales from gun dealers. “It didn’t want to go further and intrude on private transactions among unlicensed individuals,” he said.

Gun control advocates said the case threatens progress made as a result of the 1968 and 1994 laws.

“If the court accepts the gun lobby argument that federal law allows for straw purchases of guns, the felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill will be able to easily circumvent the Brady background check system to obtain guns from licensed dealers,” said Jonathan Lowy, director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

1 Comment

  1. Dean Weingarten on

    The oral arguments in the case of Abramski v. United States, where the Supreme Court is determining if the ATF can change the definition of what is a “straw buyer” without a change in the statute, and whether a person who transfers a firearm to someone who can legally posses the firearm is involved in a “straw purchase”. The ATF had one interpretation of the statute from the implementation of the law in 1968 until 1994, 26 years later. Then they started a different interpretation of the law under the Clinton regime.

    The arguments did not seem to go well for the government, as several of the justices focused on the ATF change in interpretation of the law, which occurred in 1994, without a change in the statute. From Mr. Dietz, the defendants attorney:

    Another point, Your Honors, is that the

    21 plain text interpretation of the statute is one that the

    22 agency, ATF, had adopted initially. In 1979, the Agency

    23 sent a circular to gun dealers that took the — the

    24 precise position that — that Petitioner is taking here,

    25 which is that a purchase of a gun for another lawful gun

    1 owner is permissible. And in doing so, the — the

    2 Agency said that that was an interpretation of the text

    3 of the Gun Control Act.

    Justice Roberts Questioning the Government’s lawyer, Mr. Palmore:

    17 CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Where in the Act

    18 does — is the basis for the requirement on the form?

    19 The form says, you know, if you’re not the actual,

    20 you’re buying for somebody else. Where is that in the

    21 statute?

    22 MR. PALMORE: That is ATF’s reasonable

    23 interpretation of the statute and I was just going to

    24 get to that.

    25 JUSTICE SCALIA: Its current one. It used

    1 to have a different one.

    2 MR. PALMORE: That’s the current one, and

    3 it’s been consistent for the last 20 years, Justice

    4 Scalia.

    More Here:

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