Supreme Court: Gun Purchasers Must Be Present At Time of Sale

In 2009, former police officer Bruce James Abramski, Jr. of Collinsville, Virginia offered to purchase a Glock 19 handgun for his uncle using his police discount. Three days after receiving a check from his uncle for the $400 cost, Abramski purchased the gun at a local gun shop. As part of the purchase, Abramski filled out the required federal form, indicating that he was the buyer of the gun. He then transferred the gun to his uncle in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Sometime later, Abramski was investigated in connection with a bank robbery. During a legal search of his home, police found the receipt for the $400 gun purchase. While no charges were filed in the bank robbery, he was charged with making false statements about the purchase of the gun.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 regulates firearm dealers’ gun sales.  To minimize the chance of those prohibited from purchasing guns (such as felons, drug addicts, or the mentally ill), federal background checks are required. It also requires that the actual buyer appears in person for the transaction. The prohibition of these so-called “straw-man” purchases makes it illegal for someone else to purchase a gun that is intended for another person. The federal form specifically states that if the person signing it is not the actual buyer, then the dealer cannot transfer the gun.

Abramski indicated he was the actual purchaser, which is why he was convicted and given five years probation.

He later appealed his conviction because he said that his uncle was not prohibited from buying the gun in the first place. All of the subsequent transactions, including the transfer to his uncle, were all done according to applicable laws and his uncle would have been able to purchase the gun on his own. His lawyer argued that the straw-purchase prohibition was about preventing firearms from falling into the hands of those not legally allowed to have one.  This, according to his lawyer, makes his false statement irrelevant. Two lower courts didn’t agree with Abramski’s reasoning and upheld his conviction.

On Monday, in a 5-4 split decision, the Supreme Court agreed.

In the opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, the majority pointed out that the elaborate federal system of in-person identification and background checks is necessary to prevent guns from falling into the hands of prohibited purchasers. Even if the owner (in this case Abramski’s uncle) is legally able to have a firearm, allowing someone else to essentially do the paperwork usurps the law’s intended purpose. Abramski’s false statement “prevented the dealer from insisting that the true buyer [Abramski’s uncle] appear in person, provide identifying information, show a photo ID, and submit to a background check.” This made the statement relevant to the legality of the sale.

The dissent was written by Justice Antonin Scalia and was joined by the court’s conservative justices. They disagreed with designating Abramski’s uncle as the actual buyer since he was not present. He likened it to sending his son with money to purchase eggs and milk, saying that no one would say the store sold the items to anyone but the person at the counter. In a footnote retort, Justice Kagan acknowledged that there was some ambiguity to the way the law was written, but that the law clearly defines the actual buyer as “the man getting, and always meant to get, the firearm.” This interpretation is the only one that makes the law actually work.

Abramski v. United States did not question the constitutionality of the law and neither did the ruling.

Photo by Ethan Miller via Thinkstock

92 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for the article.

Marianne C.
Marianne C.2 years ago

@ Pamela W:

I know the move. I've seen it before -- not just from her, but from many other persons of the trollish persuasion. It's as if they think that if they bombard a thread with enough disinformation, they will somehow say something (anything!) that makes them sound right.



Alan Lambert
Alan Lambert2 years ago

I'm honestly SHOCKED that the NRA allowed the Supreme Court to back this 1/32nd of a loaf decision.

Pamela W.
Pamela W.2 years ago

I agree Roberta G .... a very interesting article. Thanks for posting the link.

Pamela W.
Pamela W.2 years ago

LOL Marianne C ...... I know just what you mean - know her "of old". The trouble with doing cut/paste and NOT reading, or understanding, the content (before using) it is that you can just contradict your own argument !! Looks to me that is precisely what she has done, in this case. Now of course it's back to her usual "plan B" ..... fire off a volley of shots and then run for cover, while frantically searching for some more ammunition. Please excuse the "puns" - they seemed to fit admirably in this instance.

Marianne C.
Marianne C.2 years ago

@ Roberta G:

There's a specific case in Wisconsin that inspired the law that keeps domestic abuser from owning guns. It happened a few miles from here.

A woman had taken her children and left her abusive husband. She was at her mother's house. The husband pulled into the driveway one day, and the women herded the children inside the house. Thinking that he would dare do anything in broad daylight in the driveway where the whole neighborhood could see him, the wife went out to speak to him. Her intent was to tell him he had to stay away, or she'd call the police.

As she approached him, he raised a pistol and shot her in the chest. Her mother and children were watching from the house. The mother ran outside screaming, and the guy turned the gun on her, shooting her once in the chest. She fell, but managed to get back inside the house.

As his wife lay bleeding on the driveway, the man then emptied the pistol into her torso.

While his children watched, this man murdered their mother and shot their grandmother in the chest. Because his victim had dared try to escape his abuse.

He’s why we no longer allow domestic abusers to have guns.

Roberta G.
Roberta G.2 years ago

I read this in AlterNet today...great article!

9 Signs of Dangerous Gun Nut Craziness in 2014
America’s obsession with guns is hitting new levels of craziness and public disgust.

And since, like some people, I don't cut and paste lengthy stories, here is the link.

http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/nine-signs-dangerous-gun-nut-craziness-2014?akid=11943.306634.aPUYLP&rd=1&src=newsletter1005187&t=3

Marianne C.
Marianne C.2 years ago

@ Pamela W.:

So far, Wanda Woman hasn't needed a point to rebut in order to start screaming rebuttals. The way she seems to feel the need for a gun so she can stand up to the rest of humanity, she must feel very vulnerable and frightened.

Pamela W.
Pamela W.2 years ago

12:30AM PDT on Jun 20, 2014 ..... (Wanda B) .......
" ............100% Completely False! Federal law establishes the baseline regarding the types of persons who are ineligible to purchase firearms. The federal Gun Control Act of 1968, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 922, generally prohibits the sale of firearms to any person who: ..... "

Where, in the text which you quoted after that, did it refer to the point you are rebutting Wanda ?


Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

as usual Wanda loses her mind and has no self control simply c&Ping until her mouse loses energy. Your barrage of senselessness has little if anything to do with the topic aside from a gun being mentioned.

Some people find guns stupid and needless wanda DEAL WITH it. You dont have to agree and you dont have to bludgeon anyone to make your point.
I find guns silly. I havent had one since I came back from Nam. I have never felt the need for one. I have never truly been in danger compared to Nam so I was always able to deal with it. If you want to carrry a gun fine. I am not trying to take your gun away……nor is anyone else really. Calm yourself. Life is truly nowhere near as serious as you think it is.