Unquestionably, the recent Abramski v. United States Supreme Court decision handed down June 16 is a setback. And if more gun owners don’t get more involved, with real commitment, things are only going to get worse.
Former police officer Bruce Abramski was charged with two federal firearms violations: making a false statement, a fact material to the lawfulness of the sale; and making a false statement regarding information required to be kept on file by an FFL. The Supreme Court upheld his convictions on those counts. [Other Shooter’s Log coverage of the case is here.] Had Abramski simply given his uncle the gun he got with a law-enforcement discount, he’d have never been challenged in the first place. The government would not have questioned his “Yes” answer to question 11.a. on ATF Form 4473, the Firearms Transaction Record, that he was “the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form.”
“You are … the actual transferee/buyer if you are legitimately purchasing the firearm as a gift for a third party,” the form instructions advise, also giving examples where a sale could not proceed, such as buying a gun for someone else using their money.
That was a problem, because Abramski’s uncle had written him a $400 check three days earlier, entering “GLOCK 19 handgun” in the memo line. And Abramski had certified that his answers were “true, correct, and complete,” and that he understood “answering ‘yes’ … if I am not the actual buyer is a crime punishable as a felony under Federal law.” Abramski argued that he had not violated the law because his uncle was legally eligible to own a gun, and “actual buyer” information is not specifically required by law to be kept on file. The District Court disagreed and convicted him, a decision upheld by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, albeit it noted there was a split in rulings, with the Fifth Circuit contending third-party purchases are lawful if the ultimate receiver of a firearm is not prohibited by law from owning one.
That was the reason the Supreme Court gave for granting certiorari, “principally to resolve the Circuit split.” And SCOTUS came down against Abramski in a 5-4 decision that illustrates the closeness of gun cases — and the importance of ensuring the right political environment exists to block justices like Elena Kagan, who wrote the opinion for the majority.
“No piece of information is more important under federal firearms law than the identity of a gun’s purchaser—the person who acquires a gun as a result of a transaction with a licensed dealer,” Kagan wrote in the order affirming the Fourth Circuit. “And because that statement pertained to information that a dealer must keep in its permanent records under the firearms law, Abramski’s answer … also violated [the law].” In the dissent, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia argued, “[W]hether the item sold is a carton of milk, an iPhone, or anything else under the sun, an ordinary English speaker would say that an over-the-counter merchant ‘sells’ the item to the person who pays for and takes possession of it, not the individual to whom that person later transfers the item.” “Even if the statute were wrongly thought to be ambiguous on this point, the rule of lenity (the requirement that a court resolve any ambiguity in favor of the defendant) would defeat the Government’s construction,” he maintained.
Scalia offered other arguments as well, describing the way purchasers are regarded for guns intended as gifts, for resale and for raffle prizes, where “[t]he Government considers the man at the counter the true purchaser…” But in the end, the ultimate argument contained in the 2nd Amendment— “shall not be infringed” — was never made, because to do so would alter the balance of power, and people who have power never cede it unless they have no choice.
So Abramski has become law, meaning it has been transformed into stare decisis über alles, and it can become the basis for more bad rulings across the country. To stop that from happening, gun owners who are sitting on the sidelines must join the fight for gun rights, or the decision’s arcane language and legal parrying involving milk and iPhones will devolve further into how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Are you ready to get in the fight? Tell us what action you will take in the comment section.