June 20th, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Abramski Straw-Purchase Case

Supreme Court Straw purchaser gun Scotus AbramskiA narrowly-divided U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal ban on “straw” purchases of guns can be enforced even if the ultimate buyer is legally allowed to own firearm. In Abramski v. United States, the justices ruled 5-4 that the law applied to a man who purchased a firearm on behalf of his uncle, using funds provided by the uncle, with the intention of giving the gun to his uncle who was not prohibited from owning firearms. The case began after Bruce James Abramski bought a handgun in Virginia, in 2009 on behalf of his uncle using his uncle’s money and later transferred it to him in Pennsylvania through a firearms retailer after a background check of the uncle. Abramski, a former police officer, had assured the Virginia dealer he was the “actual buyer” of the weapon even though he was really acting on his uncle’s behalf but buying the gun using a police discount available to him.

Background of the Case
The case of Abramski v. United States, arises from the prosecution of Bruce James Abramski, Jr., a former Virginia police officer, for allegedly making a “straw purchase” of a Glock handgun. Abramski had lawfully purchased a Glock pistol in Virginia, then later resold the Glock to his uncle, a resident of Pennsylvania. Both purchases were conducted through FFLs, with full background checks, and both parties were legally entitled to own a handgun. Abramski arranged the sale in this fashion to take advantage of a discount available to him as a law enforcement officer.

Supreme Court Straw purchaser gun Scotus AbramskiAbramski was indicted and prosecuted for violating Federal laws against “straw purchases”, specifically making a false declaration on BATFE Form 4473, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6). Abramski challenged the indictment, but the District Court ruled against him and the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court. However, the Fourth Circuit found a split of authority among the Circuits as to whether § 922(a)(6) applied where the ultimate recipient of the firearm was lawfully entitled to buy a gun himself. The Fourth Circuit’s ruling conflicts with previous decisions by the Fifth Circuit holding that “straw purchaser” laws are NOT violated if both the original purchaser and secondary buyer are legally entitled to own a firearm. See United States v. Polk, 118 F.3d 286 (5th Cir. 1997).

The key issue was whether Abramski committed a crime by buying a gun, and then promptly re-selling it to another person who was legally entitled to own the firearm. The government argued that Abramski broke the law when he checked a box on Form 4473 indicating he was the “actual transferee/buyer of the firearm”.

Similar Posts: