Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case involving a Virginia man who could legally purchase a firearm and did so for an uncle from Pennsylvania. Even though the Pennsylvania man who ultimately bought the gun was not legally prohibited from owning a firearm and passed a background check, the Court, in a 5-4 decision, said the transfer violated federal “straw purchase” law.
The ruling has resulted in confusion among federal firearm licensees (FFLs), particularly relating to gift purchases of firearms.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been asked to provide clarification on the Supreme Court’s decision for its firearms retailer members.
Meanwhile, it is our understanding that the Supreme Court ruling does not make it illegal for a consumer to purchase firearms as gifts.
As noted in the instructions on the Form 4473 for Section 11.a.
Actual Transferee/Buyer: For purposes of this form, you are the actual transferee/buyer if you are purchasing the firearm for yourself or otherwise acquiring the firearm for yourself (e.g., redeeming the firearm from pawn/retrieving it from consignment, firearm raffle winner). You are also the actual transferee/buyer if you are legitimately purchasing the firearm as a gift for a third party.
In the case Abramski v. United States, the Court ruled that the Virginia man, a former police officer purchasing the firearm at a discounted price, was acting as agent for the true buyer, his uncle. By declaring he was the “actual buyer” on the Form 4473, the Virginia man violated straw purchase law, because in effect he was acting as an agent for his uncle who had provided the funds for the purchase.
The difference seems to come down to the fact that it was not a gift because his uncle paid the buyer for the item.
Remember, if you are using a gun trust to purchase NFA firearms, not to simply add someone to make a purchase you would not be able to make to avoid the potential problems associated with a Straw Purchase.