Monday, June 16, 2014

Some Cases Are Just Too Stupid To Bring To The Supreme Court

This isn't really a Second Amendment issue.  A guy named Bruce Abramski offered to buy a gun from a dealer for his uncle.  Abramski had no intention of buying the gun for himself; this is the legal definition of a strawman purchase, a federal crime.  Abramski's defense was essentially that his uncle wasn't a prohibited person.  His uncle could have bought the gun from a dealer and passed the background check.

Now, there might be a good argument that the law is stupid; it should only treat a strawman purchase as a serious crime if the ultimate destination of the gun is a prohibited person.  But that isn't what the law says.  Now, Justice Scalia makes the argument in the dissent that the false statement made by Abramski was not material to the lawfulness of the sale.  I suppose if Abramski had not know about the strawman purchase prohibition, or it had not been prominently featured in the question on the Form 4473, I would be a bit more sympathetic.  But this is a pretty simple question: are you buying this gun for yourself, or for someone else?

Anyway, Abramski lost before the Supreme Court 5-4 -- and so now has a federal felony that will forever prohibit him from owning a gun.  Don't do someone a favor by buying them a gun.  The consequences can be quite serious.

UPDATE: A commenter over at Shall Not Be Questioned pointed to this very disturbing 2010 Roanoke Times article about Abramski.  It appears that the strawman purchase was because  he was trying to take advantage of his law enforcement officer discount to get his uncle a deal on a gun.  And then there were bank robbery charges that were dropped.  And a court-ordered mental health evaluation.

UPDATE 2: This is really a very minor technical violation.  He transferred the gun to his uncle through another Federal Firearms Licensee, who had to do the background check.  I suspect that all the other weirdness (the bank robbery charge, threats against police officers, mental health evaluation) caused what was at most a technical violation of the law to be turned into a completely overblown case, rather like the Chemical Weapons Treaty case that the Supreme Court disposed of last month.


  1. The whole point of taking your case to the Supreme Court is that there is a constitutional issue being decided. It isn't supposed to be just another appeal to higher authority until you get an answer you like.

    There was no constitutional issue in this. It should have been a 9-0 decision.

    When the Supreme court is divided on every issue 5-4, what chance to the rest of us have? Every law becomes arbitrary. half of supreme court justices don't even agree on what the law is.

  2. ... It should have been a 9-0 decision.

    It wasn't totally clear cut. It is a general principle in criminal law that if a law is ambiguous it should be interpreted in the way that favors the defendant. Prior to 1994 the ATF interpreted the law as meaning that someone like Abramski was the actual purchaser even if he intended to transfer the gun soon thereafter. It appears this is still the case for guns bought as gifts. And the language on the form is not necessarily dispositive if it goes beyond what the statute provides.