Supreme Court rules that 'straw' purchases of guns are illegal

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The Supreme Court on Monday deemed “straw” purchases of guns illegal, delivering a huge win to advocates of stricter gun controls.

In a 5-4 decision, the court concluded that one legal gun owner may not acquire a firearm on behalf of another — a practice known as "straw" purchasing.

The case, known as Abramski v. United States, centered on a former police officer who sought to buy a Glock 19 handgun for his uncle. Though both men were allowed to own guns, Bruce Abramski claimed on forms that he was the “actual transferee/buyer” of the weapon and was later convicted of making false statements.

Abramski argued that federal gun law — intended to keep guns out of the wrong hands — did not apply to his transaction.

The court, though split down ideological lines, disagreed.

“No piece of information is more important under federal firearms law than the identity of a gun’s purchaser — the person who acquires a gun as a result of a transaction with a licensed dealer,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined in the decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the dissent, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Scalia contended gun laws now on the books don’t support the majority’s finding.

“The Court makes it a federal crime for one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner,” he wrote. “Whether or not that is a sensible result, the statutes Congress enacted do not support it — especially when, as is appropriate, we resolve ambiguity in those statutes in favor of the accused.”

The ruling follows the court’s 2008 decision, in the case District of Columbia v. Heller, protecting an individual's right to possess guns for self-defense. In that case, Kennedy, a frequent swing vote, sided in with the court’s conservative wing.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which backs stronger limits on firearms, hailed the ruling as a victory over the “corporate gun lobby.”

“This is a very big and very positive decision that will save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Once again the Supreme Court rejected efforts by the corporate gun lobby to undermine federal gun laws, reaffirming that sensible laws can have a big impact while being consistent with the Second Amendment,” said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.