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Supremes to Rule on Federal Crimes Involving Gun Resales

The Supreme Court of the United States recently granted a writ of certiorari to decide the legality under federal law of the owner of a firearm selling it to someone else, if the new owner cannot have a gun legally.

When a person buys a gun intending to later sell it to someone else, the government often prosecutes the initial buyer for a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6) for making a false statement about the identity of the buyer that is "material to the lawfulness of the sale."

These prosecutions rely on the court-created "straw purchaser" doctrine, a legal fiction that treats the ultimate recipient of a firearm as the "actual buyer," and the immediate purchaser as a mere "straw man." The lower courts uniformly agree that a buyer's intent to resell a gun to someone who cannot lawfully buy it is a fact "material to the lawfulness of the sale." But the Fourth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits have split with the Fifth and Ninth Circuits about whether the same is true when the ultimate recipient can lawfully buy a gun.

The Supreme Court granted cert in Abramski v. United States, No. 12-1493 (4th Cir. 2013), a case presenting the following issues:

1. Is a gun buyer's intent to sell a firearm to another lawful buyer in the future a fact "material to the lawfulness of the sale" of the firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6)?

2. Is a gun buyer's intent to sell a firearm to another lawful buyer in the future a piece of information "required... to be kept" by a federally licensed firearm dealer under § 924(a)(1)(A).

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