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Supreme Court Rules on “Straw” Purchases

Bad news: it appears that purchasing a gun as a gift for someone else (like a Father’s Day present) may now be considered an illegal “straw” purchase.

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.

At first it seemed that this ruling only applies to situations where gun owner A purchases a firearm with the intent to immediately turn around and sell it to gun owner B (or purchased with gun owner B’s money), where both A and B are lawfully allowed to own said firearm. This is bad enough, but according to the ruling, it appears gifts may also be considered a “straw” purchase.

In the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:

The Court makes it a federal crime for one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner.

That certainly would seem to cover gifts. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how this one plays out, for now, something to keep an eye on. You can read more at The Hill and Politico, and you can read the 5-4 decision here.

Update 6/16/2014 15:15 EST:

There’s definitely some confusion where gifts and legality are concerned, both current state and how this ruling will affect giving firearms as gifts.

According to the notices and definitions section for question 11a on the 4473, if you are “legitimately purchasing the firearm as a gift for a third party” then you are still the “Actual Transferee/Buyer” of the firearm. So clearly, current state is that giving a firearm as a gift is perfectly legal.

However, the question in my mind is, does this ruling change that at all? If they are concerned with the intent of the purchase, what is the difference between purchasing with the intent to gift and purchasing with the intent to sell? In both cases you are purchasing a firearm for another lawful gun owner.

15 Responses to Supreme Court Rules on “Straw” Purchases

  1. Eric June 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    So, if you inherit a firearm, that would pretty much be the same. As would selling a firearm to anyone for any reason. Ridiculous.

  2. Jack June 16, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    This also seems to cover married couples. So the government is now telling me that I can’t purchase a firearm for my wife (as a surprise) or it makes my purchase illegal. That is so stupid. You can’t make this stuff up.

  3. Robert June 16, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    This also opens the door to label a gun owner an armed felon this creates an excuse for a no knock late hours arrest
    Putting an otherwise lawabidingperson in a situation of armed assault at night with no reasonable reason to believe it is law enforcement

    Very useful for an administration who wishes to villianise gun owners

  4. InBox485 June 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    This is 100% contrary to written law nevermind that piece of toilet paper formerly known as the constitution. Anybody who thinks SCOTUS isn’t being blackmailed needs their heads examined. Each one of them has their balls in a vice, and this administration will not be crossed by them in any meaningful manner.

  5. dgdimick June 16, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    My take on this is if the transfer crosses state lines, then the feds get to get involved. The case was specifically about this, not the cases people are talking about; gift to a wife, etc. I’d like to see someone that knows a bit about case law jump in.

    • Brandon June 16, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

      Me too.

  6. TK June 16, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    I have the same question Brandon. On the surface, this looks to be a clarification of something we already knew – you have to be the ‘actual buyer’ unless it’s a gift. However, the wording of the ruling and also the dissent makes it sound like we should be on the lookout for changes to the 4473. Time will tell…thanks for the heads up.

  7. Awelowynt June 16, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    Under the explanation for Question 11.a.

    “You are also the actual transferee/buyer if you are legitimately purchasing the firearm as a gift for a third party.”

  8. joker7692 June 16, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    This won’t cover inheritance, private sales (if it’s just you selling a gun to a guy), or your marriage partner.

    If you are in a will or gifted a firearm, there is no purchase history, and you aren’t required to register the change of hands with the federal government. It is OPTIONAL in most states (I think only a few require it at this point?). Same goes for private sale, but that’s way less relevant to this topic, because you can’t possibly know what someone’s going to do with something once you’ve sold it to them.

    You can purchase a firearm for your wife with this in effect because you aren’t just two random individuals – you’re married. There’s a lot of legal red tape there that isn’t worth cutting through if your wife doesn’t have an extensive criminal history. It’s the same concept as that you can purchase a car and sign it in your name, but your wife also holds ownership rights.

    So please, keep your heads on straight, and realize that this just means you can’t buy your friend a gun for his birthday. Just take him to the gun shop on his birthday, let him pick the gun he wants, and then pay for it (but allow him to sign for it since it’ll be his). This isn’t nearly as big of a deal as you think it is… and by freaking out, you’re making every gun-lover in this country look as big of a knee-jerk idiot as the Democrats are.

    • Brandon June 16, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

      Joker, no one is freaking out. The registration points you bring up are irrelevant, as there is no (official) federal registration. This isn’t a state level discussion. It also doesn’t matter if it’s your spouse, some other relation, or no relation at all. Purchasing a gun with the intent to sell it to someone else is apparently illegal. The part that remains unclear to me is gifting.

      • InBox485 June 16, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

        The gifting part here is being misconstrued in reporting. This case was a case of Party A telling Party B to use Party A’s money to purchase a gun for Party B. A reasonable argument can be made that what happened can’t be considered gifting from a legal standpoint (I disagree with it, but that can be left to the side for this case). The criminal charge requires not just willful lying, but also lying in a manner that defeats the purpose of the law. The purpose of the law was to prevent prohibited persons from obtaining firearms. Allegedly, the identity is pseudo confidential, so the actual person should be irrelevant, but the government just argued that they really really want to know so somehow that should alter the law, and the courts just gave it to them. The issue with this is just a gun issue. Basically it made it so that any “white lie” on a form could become a crime even if the lie was irrelevant to the intended outcome. Secondary issue is that this is one more case where the law isn’t what is written, it is what the government feels it should be at whatever arbitrary time. The second part is more critical because it is just further erosion of rule of law rather than whim.

        So in short, honest gifting isn’t impacted other than a lot of FFLs are going to digest a news article rather than a court case and won’t process legal transfers. What has changed is now the ATF can modify laws through footnotes on forms, and inaccurate statements irrelevant to the overall statement purpose can now constitute crimes despite that being explicitly contrary to the written law.

        • Brandon June 16, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

          Yeah I’ve been reading through more of the 40 page decision, and it appears that gifting is still legal. My problem is the gray area of “intent” that this creates…when money changes hands (before the purchase, illegal, after the purchase, legal) is now more relevant than whether or not both parties are legally able to own a firearm.

          • InBox485 June 16, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

            Exactly. That and since the ATF

            a) is inventing law that doesn’t exist and getting away with it
            b) argued that it was a crime because they just want to know who became the eventual owner of the gun and not just if the owner wasn’t prohibited

            I personally would do about the same thing I already do. Be as discreet and limiting in what you allow the government to know about what you may or may not do, because it all may be held against you by a court that considers executive interests above written law.

    • TK June 16, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      joker7692, the only one making gun lovers look like idiots is you. This absolutely DOES apply to private sales. I’m not even going to address the other problems with your comment.

  9. Jim June 19, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    Basically his imperial majesty kept his promise to enact change that bloombutt and the rest of the hoplophobes wanted. Basically all private sales and gifts are now illegal as there is no time limit.