Wednesday, July 2, 2014

“Straw purchasers” of firearms must identify themselves as such

The Supreme Court of the United States in Abramski v. U.S., 134 S.Ct. 2259 (2014) held that misrepresenting oneself as an actual firearms purchaser versus a “straw purchaser” was a material misrepresentation. Abramski was convicted of making a false statement that was material to the lawfulness of a firearm sale and making a false statement with respect to information required to be kept in the records of a licensed firearms dealer. The law in part reads that it shall be unlawful to “make any false or fictitious oral or written statement ..., intended or likely to deceive such [dealer] with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale or other disposition of such firearm.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6)
Abramski purchased a handgun for his uncle who could legally own a firearm. The reason Abramski did this was so he could use his old police I.D. and obtain a law enforcement discount on the handgun. The form Abramski filled out was ATF Form 4473 which is required to be filled out by the purchaser of a firearm at the time of the sale. Question 11.a asked whether Abramski was the “actual transferee/buyer” of the firearm. Abramski answered in the affirmative even though the form warned that straw purchasers did not qualify and must identify themselves as such. A straw purchaser is someone who buys a firearm on behalf of another person.
The court held that Ambramski’s misrepresentation was material because the ATF Form was required to be kept by the firearms dealer for future use by law enforcement agencies. The court stated that a straw purchase of a firearm for a person legally allowed to own one has no bearing on the violation. This is because the purpose of the ATF form is not to just prevent prohibited persons from purchasing firearms but to also determine who the current owner of a firearm is. According to the Court, the current owner of the firearm is important information for law enforcement because it helps determine whether someone is a suspect in a crime or whether someone has a firearm in their possession and allowing for straw purchasers would contradict this purpose and defeat the goal of ATF form 4473.