A.G. Schneiderman Urges Supreme Court To Uphold Federal Prosecution Of “Straw Purchase” Arrangements In Gun Sales

Multi-State Amicus Brief Argues That It Is A Federal Crime Whenever A Person Knowingly Buys Guns For Someone Else And Conceals The True Buyer’s Identity

Schneiderman: Preventing Enforcement Of Straw Purchase Law Would Make All Of Us Less Safe

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman joined a coalition of states in filing an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the authority of federal prosecutors to enforce the law against “straw purchase” arrangements in gun sales. In a “straw purchase,” a person buys guns for someone else, concealing the true buyer’s identity from the firearms dealer.   The brief argues that such an arrangement is a federal crime, regardless of whether the true buyer is lawfully eligible to possess a firearm.

“Concealing the identity of the true buyer of a gun is a crime,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Law enforcement relies on truthful and accurate statements on background check forms, not only to weed out purchasers who are barred by law from owning guns, but to trace the origin of a gun if it is used in a future crime. If the Supreme Court prevents federal prosecutors from fully enforcing the law against straw purchases, it will hamstring law enforcement and make all of us less safe.”

The brief was filed yesterday in the case of Abramski v. United States. Bruce Abramski purchased a handgun for his uncle from a federally licensed firearms dealer. When filling out Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Form 4473, he stated that he was the actual buyer of the gun, although he had agreed to purchase the gun for his uncle. After the purchase, he transferred the gun to his uncle and deposited a check from his uncle reimbursing him for the purchase. His uncle was not legally barred from owning a handgun.

Federal law makes it a crime for a person to knowingly make a false statement in connection with the purchase of a firearm from a licensed importer, manufacturer, or dealer of firearms, where the falsehood is material to the lawfulness of the sale or other disposition of the firearm. The amicus brief argues that a person who knowingly misrepresents the identity of the true purchaser of a gun in a transaction covered by the statute violates the federal statute even if the true purchaser is not barred by law from purchasing a gun.

The brief explains that straw-purchase arrangements frustrate, in several ways, state law enforcement efforts to keep guns out of the wrong hands and prevent unlawful firearms trafficking: “Some straw purchases conceal an actual buyer who is ineligible to possess a gun, of course, but others conceal actual buyers who wish to withhold their identities for other reasons—to obscure a high volume of gun purchases, for example, or to avoid being traced to the gun after it is used in a planned crime.” The brief argues that restricting the ability of federal prosecutors to pursue those who engage in straw purchases would allow “would-be criminals . . . to acquire and transport untraceable firearms across state lines with relative ease.”

Hawaii Attorney General David M. Louie led the filing of the amicus brief, joined by eight other states—Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon—as well as the District of Columbia.  The brief is available here.

This amicus brief follows several other actions taken by Attorney General Schneiderman to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.  He developed model gun show procedures to ensure that every sale of a gun at a gun show in New York is accompanied by a background check. Those procedures, developed in cooperation with gun show operators, have been adopted by virtually every gun show operator in New York State, and former Representative Gabrielle Giffords cited them as a national model for other states to follow.  He also successfully defended New York’s handgun licensing statute from legal challenge and is doing the same for New York’s SAFE Act. In addition, he is leading a 10-state coalition calling on Congressional leadership to reject laws that would force states like New York, and the other co-signing states, to abandon their gun laws and instead allow out-of-state visitors to carry concealed firearms based on their home states’ weaker laws.

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