- - Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Politicians scared of legal guns lost their attempt to disembowel the Second Amendment, but they’re not giving up. President Obama and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City are in the gun-control game for the long haul, advocating reforms that sound like common sense until they become law.

A “straw purchase” case that goes before the Supreme Court in October will be an important test. When someone who is ineligible to own a gun, such as a onetime felon, pays someone to buy a gun for him, this is called a “straw purchase.” In one notorious example, the U.S. Justice Department authorized straw purchases on behalf of Mexican drug kingpins, a scheme to track the final buyer in Operation Fast and Furious. Instead, it lost track of hundreds of guns.

None of this interesting legal history applies to Bruce Abramski, a Virginia resident who helped his elderly uncle get a handgun. Both men were legally entitled to own a gun. Both passed the required background checks. As an ex-cop, Mr. Abramski bought a Glock 19 and obtained a law-enforcement discount. He consulted three federally licensed dealers to make sure he did everything by the book when he transferred the gun to his uncle in Pennsylvania.

But Mr. Abramski checked the wrong box on the ambiguously worded federal background-check paperwork. To the question, “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form?” Mr. Abramski checked “yes.” You might think a paperwork mistake, no matter how innocent, is the vilest crime known to a federal bureaucrat — far worse than murder, rape, treason, molesting a child or even mopery.

Federal prosecutors pounced. They insisted that Mr. Abramski lied on the paper form, that his uncle was the actual buyer. Eventually, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. “The [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] Form 4473,” three-judge panel ruled, “as completed and signed by Abramski, warned him — in bold type — that he was not the actual buyer of the Glock 19 handgun if he was buying it for someone else.” Federal officials said they suspected that Mr. Abramski was involved in a crime that had nothing to do with the gun, but they never filed charges.

If allowed to stand, the 4th Circuit decision would turn the law away from being a tool to thwart criminals into something to create criminals. Gun-rights groups argue in the appeal that “there is no law or regulation prohibiting the purchase of a firearm from a [federal firearms licensee] by one person for a third party, if both are eligible to receive a firearm.” The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, dealing with a similar question, said a wrong answer on the form would be deceptive only if intended to conceal an otherwise unlawful transaction.

Now the nine high court justices will resolve the disagreement between the two appellate panels, the 4th in Richmond and the 5th in New Orleans. The Supreme Court can strike a blow for common sense, to prevent punishment for making an errant checkmark. Upholding a conviction would send a chilling message to any law-abiding citizen trying to exercise his constitutional right, upheld by the Supreme Court, to buy a gun to defend himself. Having lost at the Supreme Court, the bureaucrats are trying to use arcane rules and regulations to convict an innocent man for checking the wrong box. It’s how they would create a gun-free zone.

The Washington Times

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