August 20th, 2019

Susan Minter is Wrong on Basic Federal Firearm Law

By Chris Bradley
President – Vermont Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs

Susan Minter last week issued a letter on her web site containing the following incorrect statement: “This may shock you – right now, there is no federal law that makes straw purchasing a crime. Straw purchasing, or purchasing a gun for someone who is already prohibited from purchasing a gun, is only illegal if the purchaser knows that the firearm will be used in connection with a crime.”

That claim is fundamentally wrong, by both existing federal statutory and case law.

For almost fifty years, firearm buyers have been required to complete a federal BATFE Form 4473. The first question on this form, question “11.a”, is: “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form?” Above the space for the purchaser’s required signature, Form 4473 contains multiple warnings, including “I understand that answering yes to question 11.a. if I am not the actual buyer is a crime punishable as a felony under federal law….”

Even those who favor gun restrictions recognize that this and existing federal law criminalize straw purchases- for example, the “Straw Purchase Policy Summary,” of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence dated May 21, 2012, states: “Federal law prohibits straw purchases by criminalizing the making of false statements to an FFL about a material fact on ATF Form 4473, or presenting false identification in connection with the firearm purchase. Two federal statutes – 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6) and 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(1)(A) – are the primary laws under which straw purchases are prosecuted.”

To completely dispel any question that straw purchases are already illegal under current federal law, the US Supreme Court has upheld a felony conviction where a man bought a firearm for his uncle to take advantage of a law enforcement price discount. Neither man was prohibited from purchasing the firearm nor was there any intent to use the firearm in a crime. But, because the buyer falsely answered question 11a on the Form 4473, failing to disclose that his uncle had advanced him the money for the purchase, he was convicted for violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6) and the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court. The decision in Abramski v. United States was published on June 16, 2014 and that same day NPR carried the story Supreme Court Rules Against ‘Straw Purchases’ by Nina Totenberg reporting the case and decision.

Additionally, United States Code, Title 18, Chapter 44, Section 922(d) provides “It shall be a federal crime for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that they may be a prohibited person.” This type of illegal purchase is a straw purchase and it not based on whether or not a buyer of the gun knows the person they are purchasing the gun for will commit a crime. The violation of this law is based on whether or not the seller knows, or otherwise has reason to believe, that the purchaser may be a prohibited person. Once again, in order to prosecute, there is no requirement of knowing the prohibited person will use the firearm in connection with a crime.

Vermont is proven by FBI statistics to consistently have one of the very lowest violent crime rates in the nation and constantly have one of best safety records, and BATFE data shows Vermont is not a major source of guns to other states.

The Federation has long held that laws should be enacted in compliance with the state and federal constitution, and based upon sound public policy, including accurate law and facts. The Federation provides corrective information in response to published inaccurate information about matters of importance to our member clubs and Vermont’s outdoor sporting and shooting communities.

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