ABRAMSKI v. UNITED STATES

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
12-1493
Petitioner 
Bruce J. Abramski
Respondent 
United States
Decided By 
Advocates
(for the petitioner)
(Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent)
Term:
Location: Town Gun Shop
Facts of the Case 

In November 2009, Bruce Abramski learned that his uncle wanted to purchase a new 9mm Glock handgun. Abramski offered to purchase this weapon because, as a former Virginia police officer, he could get a discount. On November 17, Abramski purchased the handgun and completed a form distributed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) on which he checked a box indicating that he was not buying the gun on behalf of another person.

In June 2010, Abramski was arrested for suspicion of committing a bank robbery. During a search of his home, the police found a receipt showing that Abramski gave the handgun to his uncle in exchange for $400. The police charged Abramski with violating federal law by making a false, material statement on an ATF form and with respect to information kept by a licensed firearms dealer. Specifically, the government argued that Abramski knowingly made a false statement to a firearms dealer, that he intended to deceive the firearms dealer, and that he made the false statement about a “material fact” when he did not disclose that he was buying the firearm for his uncle. A grand jury subsequently indicted Abramski.

Abramski moved to dismiss the indictment and suppress evidence regarding the receipt. He argued that he legally transferred the firearm to his uncle and therefore never made any false statements to the ATF or the firearms dealer. He also argued that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights because they did not have a proper warrant to conduct the search of his home from which the receipt resulted. The trial court denied Abramski's motion, stating that, because he did not disclose that the firearm was meant for his uncle, Abramski withheld a “material fact” required when purchasing a firearm. The trial court also held that the police did not violate Abramski's Fourth Amendment rights. Abramski entered a conditional guilty plea and received five years of probation and a $200 fine. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Question 

1. Is a gun buyer’s intent to sell the firearm to another buyer a “material fact” under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(b), a firearm disclosure statute?

2. Is a federally licensed firearms dealer required to keep information regarding a purchaser’s intent to sell a firearm to another person?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for United States, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 18 U. S. C. §922(a)(6)

Yes, yes. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion for the 5-4 majority. The Court held that, because the statute clearly sets up a system for verifying the would-be buyer’s identity and for the maintenance of the seller’s records, it is evidently interested in the final purchaser and not simply the middleman who initially purchases the firearm. Therefore, the statute is meant to keep guns out of the hands of those who cannot legally posses them, and this purpose can only be served if the records reflect the information of the person who actually takes control of the gun after its purchase. Such a reading follows previously established precedent that focuses on a transaction’s true participants rather than the initial, nominal ones. In this case, by hiding the fact that Alvarez was the actual buyer, Abramski prevented the gun dealer from interacting directly with Alvarez and violated the statute.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a dissent in which he argued that, because neither Abramski nor his uncle were legally prohibited from owning a gun, the fact that Abramski was buying the gun for his uncle was immaterial to the sale itself. In attempting to otherwise read the statute, the majority opinion ignored the plain language of the statute itself, which is solely focused on the initial sale and not its ultimate consequences. Because there are other situations in which a gun changes hands that the statute does not consider to create a nominal purchaser and a true purchaser, Justice Scalia argued that the majority opinion misconstrues the statute’s intended effect and broadens the statute beyond what Congress intended. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. joined in the dissent.

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ABRAMSKI v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 15 December 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_12_1493>.
ABRAMSKI v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_12_1493 (last visited December 15, 2014).
"ABRAMSKI v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed December 15, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_12_1493.