Does the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibit a lawful gun-purchaser from stating that they are the actual buyer when they are purchasing the gun for another person?
In the fall of 2009, Bruce Abramski purchased a handgun for his uncle and indicated on the required form that he was the “actual buyer” of the gun. Before Abramski made the purchase, the uncle sent Abramski a check to cover the cost of the gun. After buying the gun, Abramski transferred ownership of the firearm to his uncle at a local gun store in a different state. Both Abramski and his uncle are lawful gun owners. After the transfer, the government criminally prosecuted Abramski for making a false statement claiming he was the “actual buyer” of the gun. Abramski argued on appeal that the relevant provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 do not apply when the purchaser intends to resell the gun to another lawful purchaser. That argument was rejected by the Fourth Circuit, which held that the identity of the purchaser is always a fact material to the sale and that the gun dealer was required to record the identity of the intended owner. The United States argues for affirmation that the Gun Control Act prohibits Abramski from lying about the identity of the actual purchaser, which makes the sale illegal and undermines the purpose of the law. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will settle a circuit split regarding the lawfulness of this type of intermediary gun purchase. This decision will also establish whether an individual may ever buy a gun on behalf of another buyer.
When a person buys a gun intending to later sell it to someone else, the government often prosecutes the initial buyer under 18 U.S.C. § 922 (a)(6) for making a false statement about the identity of the buyer that is "material to the lawfulness of the sale." These prosecutions rely on the court-created "straw purchaser" doctrine, a legal fiction that treats the ultimate recipient of a firearm as the "actual buyer," and the immediate purchaser as a mere "straw man."
The lower courts uniformly agree that a buyer's intent to resell a gun to someone who cannot lawfully buy it is a fact "material to the lawfulness of the sale." But the Fourth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits have split with the Fifth and Ninth Circuits about whether the same is true when the ultimate recipient can lawfully buy a gun. The questions presented are:
- Is a gun buyer's intent to sell a firearm to another lawful buyer in the future a fact "material to the lawfulness of the sale" of the firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922 (a)(6)?
- Is a gun buyer's intent to sell a firearm to another lawful buyer in the future a piece of information "required ... to be kept" by a federally licensed firearm dealer under § 924 (a)(I)(A)?
In the fall of 2009, Abramski offered to buy a firearm for his uncle, Angel Alvarez, because as a former police officer, Abramski could receive a discount at a local Virginia gun store. See U.S. v. Abramski, 706 3d 307, 310 (4th Cir.