WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Supreme Court sided with gun control groups and the Obama administration Monday, ruling that the federal ban on “straw” purchases of guns can be enforced even if the ultimate buyer is legally allowed to own a gun.
The justices ruled 5-4 that the law applied to a Virginia man who bought a gun with the intention of transferring it to a relative in Pennsylvania who was not prohibited from owning firearms.
The ruling settles a split among appeals courts over federal gun laws intended to prevent sham buyers from obtaining guns for the sole purpose of giving them to another person. The laws were part of Congress’ effort to make sure firearms did not get into the hands of unlawful recipients.
Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan said the federal government’s elaborate system of background checks and record-keeping requirements help law enforcement investigate crimes by tracing guns to their buyers. Those provisions would mean little, she said, if a would-be gun buyer could evade them by simply getting another person to buy the gun and fill out the paperwork.
Kagan’s opinion was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often considered the court’s swing vote, as well as liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the language of the law does not support making it a crime for one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner. He was joined by the court’s other conservatives — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
The case began after Bruce James Abramski, Jr. bought a Glock 19 handgun in Collinsville, Virginia, in 2009 and later transferred it to his uncle in Easton, Pennsylvania. Abramski, a former police officer, had assured the Virginia dealer he was the “actual buyer” of the weapon even though he had already offered to buy the gun for his uncle using a police discount.