The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 Monday in Abramski v. United States [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that the government can enforce a ban on purchasing a gun for someone else, a so-called “straw purchase,” even if that other person is lawfully allowed to have a gun. The court held that a gun buyer’s intent to sell a firearm to another lawful buyer in the future is a fact “material to the lawfulness of the sale” of the firearm under 18 USC § 922(a)(6) [text]. Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority:
Before a federally licensed firearms dealer may sell a gun, the would-be purchaser must provide certain personal information, show photo identification, and pass a background check. To ensure the accuracy of those submissions, a federal statute imposes criminal penalties on any person who, in connection with a firearm’s acquisition, makes false statements about “any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale.” … In this case, we consider how that law applies to a so-called straw purchaser—namely, a person who buys a gun on someone else’s behalf while falsely claiming that it is for himself. We hold that such a misrepresentation is punishable under the statute, whether or not the true buyer could have purchased the gun without the straw.
Justice Antonin Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
Bruce Abramski purchased a handgun for his uncle, indicating on required forms that he was the “actual buyer” of the gun even though prior to the purchase, his uncle had sent Abramski a check for the cost of the gun, and following the purchase, Abramski transferred ownership to his uncle. Both men are lawful gun owners. Following the transfer of ownership, Abramski was prosecuted for making a false statement in claiming he was the “actual buyer.” Abramski appealed from the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which held [opinion] that the identity of the purchaser is always a fact material to the sale and that the gun dealer was required to record the identity of the intended owner. Although the federal appellate courts uniformly agree that a buyer’s intent to resell a gun to someone who could not lawfully purchase the gun violates the Gun Control Act (GCA), the Fourth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits have split with the Fifth and Ninth Circuits over whether it is also a violation of the Gun Control Act when the ultimate recipient can lawfully buy a gun. JURIST Guest Columnist Stefan Tahmassebi, Deputy General Counsel at the National Rifle Association, has argued [JURIST op-ed] that the “actual buyer” requirement does not comport with the plain language of the GCA or the legislative history of the statute.