Emanuel hails Supreme Court ruling in case of ex-cop’s straw gun purchase
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter June 16, 2014 4:23PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is hailing a U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday upholding the conviction of a one-time Virginia cop who lied on a federal form that he was buying a gun for himself — when he actually made the purchase for his uncle. | AFP file
Updated: July 18, 2014 6:20AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is hailing a U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday upholding the conviction of a one-time Virginia cop who lied on a federal form that he was buying a gun for himself — when he actually made the purchase for his uncle.
The 5-4 ruling is welcome news for officials who say such “straw purchases” are one of the key ways guns wind up in the hands of criminals in Chicago and elsewhere.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is a big victory for public safety and common sense. In the last five years, more than 1,500 guns made their way from just one suburban dealer to Chicago crime scenes,” Emanuel said in a statement.
“A person who buys a gun and arms a criminal is just as responsible as the person who pulls the trigger. Today’s decision makes it clear that purchasing a gun for someone else is a serious crime with deadly consequences. I applaud the court for upholding this law.”
Federally licensed gun dealers are required to have customers fill out a form saying they’re the actual purchaser.
The form says: “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form? Warning: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a former police officer, Bruce Abramski Jr., for lying on the form in 2009.
Federal agents searched Abramski’s home when he became a suspect in a different crime. They found a receipt from his uncle for a Glock 19 handgun.
The agents learned Abramski made the purchase to save his uncle money. Abramski was eligible for a law enforcement discount at a Virginia police supply store.
The uncle gave Abramski a $400 check for the Glock. Two days later, Abramski bought the gun. Then he visited a licensed gun dealer in Pennsylvania, where his uncle lived, to transfer ownership to the uncle after he passed a background check.
The problem for Abramski was that he lied when he bought the gun in Virginia. He marked “yes” to a question about whether he was the actual buyer.
In his appeal, Abramski argued that federal law doesn’t specifically outlaw straw purchasing. The National Rifle Association and 26 states (not including Illinois) supported him in a friend-of-the-court filing.
But Justice Elena Kagan ruled that truthfully answering the form is “fundamental to the lawfulness of a gun sale.”
“No piece of information is more important under federal law than the identity of a gun’s purchaser,” Kagan wrote for the majority.
Law enforcement authorities — at local and federal levels — say straw purchasing is one of the main ways crooks get guns in the Chicago area.
But a 2012 Chicago Sun-Times analysis of gun prosecutions found it’s relatively rare for alleged straw purchasers to face criminal charges.
That’s because they have clean records and don’t face serious prison time, making their cases less of a priority than other types of gun crimes, experts say.
“I don’t think this will have a major impact,” said Mark Jones, a retired special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “You will hear a hue and cry from the NRA people. But there are plenty of straw purchasing cases where guns turn up in felonies like murders and the prosecutors still don’t go after them.”
Still, Jones, an adviser to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, said the ruling “hopefully provides an incentive for the feds to take these cases now that the Supreme Court has weighed in.”
Law enforcement officials have been pushing for additional ways to make straw purchasing illegal. In 2012, for instance, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law requiring Illinois gun owners to report missing firearms to police.
The mayor and his police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, called for the law. McCarthy emphasized that suspected straw buyers often lie to police that their guns were stolen when confronted about their guns being used by other people in crimes.