By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has upheld federal gun laws that make it a crime when buying a weapon to lie about plans to give it to someone else.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices agreed that a “straw purchaser” of a gun is guilty of a crime, even if he and the ultimate owner are both legally entitled to own firearms.
Justice Elena Kagan said the federal firearms laws assume that gun purchasers will tell the truth when they fill out federal forms and return them to a licensed dealer. One question asks: “Are you the actual buyer of the firearm listed on the form?” It includes, in bold letters, a warning that a dealer cannot sell a weapon to someone who is not the actual buyer.
If buyers were free to lie, she said, it “would undermine — indeed, for all important purposes, would virtually repeal — the gun law’s core provisions.”
The laws aim to keep guns “out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them,” she said in the decision in Abramski vs. United States. “And no part of that scheme would work if the statute turned a blind eye to straw purchases.”
Speaking for the dissenters, Justice Antonin Scalia said it was not clear that the plain language of the gun laws prohibited a legal buyer from purchasing a weapon for another legal buyer.
The ruling upholds the conviction of Bruce Abramski, a former Virginia police officer, who offered to buy a Glock 19 handgun for an uncle who lived in Pennsylvania. He said he could get the weapon for a better price. He had a $400 check from his uncle when he bought the weapon and falsely checked “Yes” on the form claiming he was the “actual buyer.”
He was later arrested and his belongings searched in an investigation of a bank robbery, but he was charged only with violating the gun-purchase laws. He entered a guilty plea and was given five years of probation. He then appealed, contending his purchase of the Glock was legal because he and his uncle were legal buyers.
Kagan disagreed, noting that it was not legal for him to buy a weapon if he was “merely a straw.”
If he had told the truth, “the sale could not have gone forward,” she noted. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor agreed.
Photo: Wallyg via Flickr