For Immediate Release - June 16, 2014

AG Coakley Applauds Supreme Court Ruling to Uphold Federal Prosecution of Straw Gun Purchases

Massachusetts Filed Amicus Brief with Eight Other States and District of Columbia

BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley today applauded the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruce James Abramski, Jr. vs. United States of America, upholding the authority of federal prosecutors to enforce a law requiring gun buyers to affirm their identity.

“Enforcement of straw purchasing laws is critical to preventing gun violence across Massachusetts and the entire country,” AG Coakley said. “Knowing the identity of the true buyer of a gun allows for a complete background check and is a key tool to keeping firearms away from people who should not have them. We urged the Court to uphold the continued enforcement of strong straw purchasing laws, and we are thankful that the Court agreed with our arguments in today’s decision.”

In January, AG Coakley joined eight other states and the District of Columbia in filing an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a straw purchase, a person buys guns for someone else, concealing the identity of the true buyer from the dealer.

The brief was filed in the case Bruce James Abramski, Jr. vs. United States of America, brought to the Supreme Court after a Virginia man was convicted for stating to a licensed gun dealer that he was buying a gun for himself, when in fact he was buying it for his uncle, who lived in Pennsylvania and had already paid him the purchase price of the gun.

According to most courts’ interpretation, the Virginia man’s statement that he was buying for himself was false and violated federal law. Had the man truthfully stated that he was purchasing on behalf of someone else, the dealer would not have been allowed to complete the sale.

Currently, by barring sales to buyers who do not state that they are buying on behalf of themselves, federal law ensures that the true buyer is accurately identified and given a background check at the time of the sale.

The states’ amicus brief stated that knowing the identity of the true buyer is crucial for law enforcement to complete background checks and to trace firearms if they are later used for criminal acts. The federal laws assist local law enforcement efforts to help end gun violence by keeping firearms away from people who should not have them.

“Straw purchases”  prevent meaningful background checks and make it far more difficult to trace guns used in crimes, especially guns bought in states with loose gun laws and then brought into states with stricter regulation of who may own guns.

The Virginia man argued that federal law should be interpreted to bar straw purchases only if the true buyer is ineligible to buy a gun. Since his uncle in Pennsylvania could legally have bought a gun for himself, the Virginia man argued that it was legal for him to lie about who the true purchaser was.

The states’ amicus brief responded that such false statements are harmful and illegal because straw buyers often do not know, or even want to know, whether the persons for whom they are buying could legally buy guns themselves. Also, such false statements still interfere with law enforcement’s gun-tracing efforts.

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

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