In a recent 5-4 decision, SCOTUS expanded the circumstances under which the Government can successfully prosecute a person under the Federal “straw purchaser” prohibitions. Since I know several people who are Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL) and countless people who are regular gun purchasers, I thought now would be a good time to review the straw purchaser laws and how this recent case affects them.
Specifically, the straw purchaser laws are Federal Statutes governing the sale of firearms. 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6) makes it a federal crime to present any false or misleading information or make false or misleading statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm or ammunition. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(1)(A) criminalizes knowingly making any false statement or representation with respect to the information required by federal firearms law to be kept in the records of a person licensed under federal firearms law. Punishment for violating these statutes can vary based on different factors, but could potentially land a violator in federal prison for up to 10 years and subject to a fine of up to $250,000. Furthermore, if the FFL who facilitates the transaction does so knowing that the straw purchaser laws are being violated, he is subject to incarceration as well.
The typical situation where this takes place is when one person is not eligible to purchase a firearm, either due to a felony conviction, mental health issue or for some other reason. That person gets a friend or relative or some other person to act as a straw purchaser. The straw purchaser buys the firearm in his name, and fills out the the requisite ATF form 4473 as though the gun is actually for him, when in fact it is being purchased for the person who is otherwise not eligible to make the purchase.
It is easy to see what these statutes were designed to do; keep guns out of the hands of people who cannot legally possess those guns. But the recent SCOTUS case presented an interesting set of facts that expanded the scope of these prohibitions. In this case former Virginia police officer Bruce Abramski agreed to purchase a Glock handgun for his uncle. His uncle was not prohibited in any way from owning, possessing or purchasing the firearm himself. Abramski was making the purchase in order to utilize a law enforcement discount. Eventually Abramski was charged and convicted under the federal straw purchaser laws. On appeal, Abramski argued that since his uncle could lawfully own the firearm he was not technically acting as a straw purchaser, hoping that SCOTUS would carve out an exception to the laws. SCOTUS sided against Abramski. The court held that regardless of whether the ultimate owner can lawfully own a firearm, it is still a violation of the law to provide false information in the purchase process.