High court to review gun transfer ruling

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It centers on Bruce Abramski Jr., a former police office who bought a handgun in Collinsville, Va., in 2009 and sold it to his elderly uncle in Pennsylvania.

Both men passed the required background checks and went through the normal legal procedure to transfer the gun, but Abramski misidentified himself on a background check form to indicate that he was the “actual buyer” of the gun, not his uncle.

An appeals court in January declared that Abramski was warned “in bold type” not to indicate that he was the “actual buyer” if he was buying the gun for someone else. 

A warning on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) form told Abramski: “You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you.”

By indicating that he himself was buying the gun, he made a “false and fictitious statement to the licensed dealer,” a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit wrote in the opinion.

Gun rights advocates have charged that the crime committed was merely a case of checking the wrong box on ambiguously worded paperwork. They have worried upholding the charge against Abramski could set a dangerous precedent that would make it more difficult to buy and transfer guns.

Furthermore, they argue that the question on the ATF form is meant to prevent legal gun transfers between two people, which Congress never intended.

“Congress’ intent was not to prevent transfers of firearms between persons who are both legally entitled to purchase the firearm,” the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund wrote in a brief supporting Abramski. “Rather, Congress desired to prevent individuals from purchasing firearms on behalf of prohibited persons.”

The ATF’s question about the “actual buyer,” the group continues, “criminalizes transfers between individuals who are not prohibited persons.”

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) also filed a brief in support of Abramski, along with the Gun Owners Foundation, the Institute on the Constitution and others.

Straw purchasers sometimes accept money from felons and other people prevented from owning guns to buy the weapons and transfer them.

Previous appeals court rulings on similar cases have been split on whether or not the background check form is intended to keep guns out of the hands of those felons or if any false statements should be criminalized, according to the appeals court's ruling. 

The case before the high court is Abramski v. United States