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Abramski v. United States

Abramski v. United States

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Published by Doug Mataconis
Decision of United States Supreme Court in Abramski v. United States issued June 19, 2014
Decision of United States Supreme Court in Abramski v. United States issued June 19, 2014

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Published by: Doug Mataconis on Jun 16, 2014
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06/17/2014

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1
(Slip Opinion)
OCTOBER TERM, 2013 Syllabus
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as isbeing done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has beenprepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See
United States
 v.
 Detroit Timber & Lumber Co.,
 200 U. S. 321, 337.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus
 ABRAMSKI
v
. UNITED STATES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 12–1493. Argued January 22, 2014—Decided June 16, 2014 Petitioner Bruce Abramski offered to purchase a handgun for his uncle. The form that federal regulations required Abramski to fill out (Form4473) asked whether he was the “actual transferee/buyer” of the gun, and clearly warned that a straw purchaser (namely, someone buyinga gun on behalf of another) was not the actual buyer. Abramski falsely answered that he was the actual buyer. Abramski was con-victed for knowingly making false statements “with respect to anyfact material to the lawfulness of the sale” of a gun, 18 U. S. C.§922(a)(6), and for making a false statement “with respect to the in-formation required . . . to be kept” in the gun dealer’s records, §924(a)(1)(A). The Fourth Circuit affirmed.
Held:
1. Abramski’s misrepresentation is material under §922(a)(6). Pp. 7–22.(a) Abramski contends that federal gun laws are entirely uncon-cerned with straw arrangements: So long as the person at the counteris eligible to own a gun, the sale to him is legal under the statute. To be sure, federal law regulates licensed dealer’s transactions with“persons” or “transferees” without specifying whether that language refers to the straw buyer or the actual purchaser. But when read in light of the statute’s context, structure, and purpose, it is clear this language refers to the true buyer rather than the straw. Federal gun law establishes an elaborate system of in-person identification andbackground checks to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of felons and other prohibited purchasers. §§922(c), 922(t). It also im-poses record-keeping requirements to assist law enforcement authori-ties in investigating serious crimes through the tracing of guns totheir buyers. §922(b)(5), 923(g). These provisions would mean little
 
 
2 ABRAMSKI
v.
 UNITED STATES Syllabus if a would-be gun buyer could evade them all simply by enlisting theaid of an intermediary to execute the paperwork on his behalf. The statute’s language is thus best read in context to refer to the actualrather than nominal buyer. This conclusion is reinforced by this Court’s standard practice of focusing on practical realities rather than legal formalities when identifying the parties to a transaction. Pp. 7–19.(b) Abramski argues more narrowly that his false response wasnot material because his uncle could have legally bought a gun for himself. But Abramski’s false statement prevented the dealer from insisting that the true buyer (Alvarez) appear in person, provide identifying information, show a photo ID, and submit to a back-ground check. §§922(b), (c), (t). Nothing in the statute suggests thatthese legal duties may be wiped away merely because the actual buy-er turns out to be legally eligible to own a gun. Because the dealer could not have lawfully sold the gun had it known that Abramski was not the true buyer, the misstatement was material to the lawfulness of the sale. Pp. 19–22.2. Abramski’s misrepresentation about the identity of the actualbuyer concerned “information required by [Chapter 44 of Title 18 of the United States Code] to be kept” in the dealer’s records. §924(a)(1)(A). Chapter 44 contains a provision requiring a dealer to “maintain such records . . . as the Attorney General may . . . pre-scribe.” §923(g)(1)(A). The Attorney General requires every licensed dealer to retain in its records a completed copy of Form 4473, see 27 CFR §478.124(b), and that form in turn includes the “actual buyer” question that Abramski answered falsely. Therefore, falsely answer-ing a question on Form 4473 violates §924(a)(1)(A). Pp. 22–23. 706 F. 3d 307, affirmed.
 AGAN
, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which K 
ENNEDY 
, G
INSBURG
, B
REYER
, and S
OTOMAYOR
, JJ., joined. S
CALIA 
, J., filed a dis-senting opinion, in which R
OBERTS
, C. J., and T
HOMAS
and A 
LITO
, JJ.,  joined.
 
 
 _________________  _________________
1 Cite as: 573 U. S. ____ (2014) Opinion of the Court
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in thepreliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested tonotify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash-ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in orderthat corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
No. 12–1493
BRUCE JAMES ABRAMSKI, JR., PETITIONER
v.
 
UNITED STATES
 
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF  APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
 
[June 16, 2014]
J
USTICE
 AGAN
 delivered the opinion of the Court. Before a federally licensed firearms dealer may sell agun, the would-be purchaser must provide certain per-sonal information, show photo identification, and pass a background check. To ensure the accuracy of those sub-missions, a federal statute imposes criminal penalties on any person who, in connection with a firearm’s acquisition,makes false statements about “any fact material to thelawfulness of the sale.” 18 U. S. C. §922(a)(6). In this case, we consider how that law applies to a so-called straw purchaser—namely, a person who buys a gun on someoneelse’s behalf while falsely claiming that it is for himself. We hold that such a misrepresentation is punishable under the statute, whether or not the true buyer could have purchased the gun without the straw. I  A Federal law has for over 40 years regulated sales by licensed firearms dealers, principally to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. See Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U. S. C. §921
et seq.
Under §922(g), certain classes

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