Bruce James Abramski, Jr. v. United States
June 16, 2014
Today the Supreme Court ruled against James Abramski, a former police officer who was eligible to own firearms and who bought a handgun for his elderly uncle who was also eligible to own firearms.
Both men passed a NICS background check, yet the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) claimed that Abramski lied on his Form 4473 when he claimed he was the “actual buyer” of the firearm.
Gun Owners of America filed two amicus briefs in support of Abramski -- one in support of Abramski's petition for cert, and another on December 3, 2013 on the merits.
The Abramski case challenges the ATF’s definition of what constitutes an illegal “straw purchase” of a firearm and involves one of the greatest instances of regulatory and prosecutorial abuse that we have ever seen.
The concept of a “straw purchase” is a “doctrine” created by ATF and the courts, rather than a “crime” enacted by Congress.
ATF argued that Abramski’s statement was “intended or likely to deceive” the Federal Firearms Licensee (“FFL”), even though he specifically asked two FFLs who both told him that he was following the law.
Justice Kagan's 5-4 opinion states that the statute must be interpreted to convict Abramski, not because of the words Congress wrote, but because she perceives that it would frustrate the policy of the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Justice Scalia's dissent explains that the best indication of what Congress' policies are is the terms of the statute they write. And here, what Abramski did was not a crime.
Federal law never uses the term “actual buyer” — whatever that may mean. Rather, the statute refers to the “transferee,” the person physically present, standing in the gun store. Federal law only prohibits transferring a gun to someone who you know or have reason to believe is not eligible to possess it.
Federal law does not, as ATF argues, prohibit an eligible person from buying a gun simply because he may later transfer it to another person eligible to possess it.
ATF claims that the FFL is “required” by law to keep information about the “actual buyer,” but the law only requires a record of the “transferee.” The government has claimed that, unless the Supreme Court adopts its position, the law will be easily avoided. But, as our brief points out, is not up to ATF or the Supreme Court to write, or rewrite, the statute.
ATF’s definition of a “straw purchase” is arbitrary and unworkable, since it exempts “gifts” bought with the transferee’s money, but not purchases made with the alleged “actual buyer’s” money.
In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, Senators Leahy and Schumer introduced a bill (that was not enacted) to outlaw straw purchases. If straw purchases were already illegal, then there would have been no need for such a bill to be introduced.
This case determines that administrative agencies who create forms that Americans must fill out, can create crimes that Congress never enacted.