High court to hear gun purchase case

mug bruceabramskiThe Roanoke Times – by Jeff Sturgeon

Lawyers will ask the U.S. Supreme Court today to absolve a former Roanoke policeman of a federal firearms conviction and hope to highlight what they see as a problem with gun store paperwork requirements.

In 2009, Bruce Abramski Jr. used his law enforcement discount to buy a pistol at a Collinsville gun store and resold the weapon four days later to his uncle, who wanted a gun for protection, had a clean background and was legally entitled to have one.  

Abramski was convicted of a felony for telling the gun store the gun was really for him, which he admitted was a false statement made to a gun dealer. But he hopes to be absolved by the nation’s high court on grounds that Congress, in passing the Gun Control Act of 1968 and subsequent laws, meant only to keep guns from people who shouldn’t have them, such as convicted criminals and the mentally ill.

Abramski wrote on purchase paperwork that the gun was for his use, when he actually planned to resell the 9 mm semi-automatic pistol to the uncle. Federal authorities charged Abramski with lying on paperwork required in the purchase of a firearm from a licensed dealer.

Abramski pleaded guilty in 2011 in federal court in Roanoke while declaring he would appeal. He was sentenced to six months of home confinement and five years of probation.

A member of Roanoke’s police force from July 2006 until December 2007, Abramski had a series of run-ins with law enforcement and suffered a host of personal and financial struggles after he left the department. The Franklin County commonwealth’s attorney filed but then dropped a charge that Abramski, who was living in Callaway, had robbed a Rocky Mount-area bank a few days before the gun buy. The FBI learned of the transaction while investigating Abramski for bank robbery. But authorities prosecuted Abramski on only the gun purchase. It’s unclear whether he lives in the area any longer.

In hearing Abramski’s appeal, the Supreme Court will examine one aspect of the operation of federally licensed firearms dealers, who are forbidden to sell guns to felons, fugitives, drug addicts, mentally incompetent people, illegal immigrants, people subject to stay-away orders, people dishonorably discharged from the military and children. Buyers not in any such category check “no” on a questionnaire developed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

As a result of court rulings and the actions of the ATF, the restrictions grew over the years to say that nobody can act as an intermediary and buy a gun for a prohibited person. The law treats the ultimate recipient of the gun as the buyer and the intermediate purchaser as the “straw” buyer, sometimes called the straw purchaser doctrine.

Today, the terms used in gun shops are even more restrictive. A would-be gun purchaser must state on the form that he or she is the “actual” buyer of the weapon, or end user. A dealer is not supposed to sell a gun to someone who is buying the gun to resell to somebody else, whether the other party is a prohibited person or can legally buy a gun.

Abramski’s lawyers contend the ATF overstepped its authority in making it a crime for a lawful gun buyer to make a purchase with plans to resell the weapon to somebody whom the law allows to possess or buy a gun, as Abramski did. They say court rulings upholding such convictions were wrong.

They contend that what Abramski did was legal and that his prosecution should be reversed. Specifically, they want the high court to unwind an earlier dismissal of Abramski’s appeal and send the case to the lower court with instructions to dismiss the indictment.

The high court’s decision is expected later this year.

To make sure he was following the law, Abramski consulted several gun shops before the purchase and handled the transfer at a gun dealer in Pennsylvania, his uncle’s home state. The Pennsylvania dealer ran a background check on the uncle first, which the uncle passed.

Federal authorities, however, contend that Abramski violated a law that makes it a crime to make any false statement to a federally licensed firearms dealer that directly relates to the lawfulness of a pending gun sale. When the form asked, “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm listed on this form?” Abramski checked the “yes” box. He pleaded guilty to making a false statement and to responding falsely on a point of information that the dealer is required to keep on file.

The appellate court that upheld Abramski’s conviction said the true identity of a gun buyer is always material to the lawfulness of the sale and something to be kept in the dealer’s records. That’s the position the government plans to argue before the Supreme Court, its filings indicate.

Abramski’s lawyers disagree, saying Abramski’s claim to be the actual buyer wasn’t material to the lawfulness of the sale. Their backup argument is that the government has gone too far, with the courts and ATF stretching a criminal statute beyond the intent of Congress, in applying the straw man doctrine to a case such as Abramski’s.


One thought on “High court to hear gun purchase case

  1. If us mundanes had been arrested for this it never would have garnered any press at all, much less going to a high court.

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