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Firearms — straw purchases

U.S. Supreme Court


Firearms — straw purchases

A defendant can be convicted of being a straw purchaser of a firearm, even though the actual buyer could have legally bought the gun himself.

Abramski contends that federal gun laws are entirely unconcerned with straw arrangements: So long as the person at the counter is eligible to own a gun, the sale to him is legal under the statute. To be sure, federal law regulates licensed dealer’s transactions with “persons” or “transferees” without specifying whether that language refers to the straw buyer or the actual purchaser. But when read in light of the statute’s context, structure, and purpose, it is clear this language refers to the true buyer rather than the straw. Federal gun law establishes an elaborate system of in-person identification and background checks to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of felons and other prohibited purchasers. §§922(c), 922(t). It also imposes record-keeping requirements to assist law enforcement authorities in investigating serious crimes through the tracing of guns to their buyers. §922(b)(5), 923(g). These provisions would mean little if a would-be gun buyer could evade them all simply by enlisting the aid of an intermediary to execute the paperwork on his behalf. The statute’s language is thus best read in context to refer to the actual rather than nominal buyer. This conclusion is reinforced by this Court’s standard practice of focusing on practical realities rather than legal formalities when identifying the parties to a transaction.

706 F. 3d 307, affirmed.

12-1493 Abramski v. U.S.

Kagan, J.; Scalia, J., dissenting.

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