IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Divided Supreme Court Shoots Down 'Straw' Purchases of Guns

The court upheld a federal law that makes it a crime for one person to buy a gun for another while lying to the dealer about who the gun is for.
Image: The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington
The U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonSAUL LOEB / AFP - Getty Images file

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a federal law that makes it a crime for one person to buy a gun for another while lying to the dealer about who the gun is for.

Federal law considers that a straw-man purchase, and the person who does it is called a straw buyer. The law was challenged by Bruce Abramski, a former policeman who bought a gun for his uncle, assuming that by showing his old police ID, he could get a discount — even though his uncle could have legally purchased the gun.

Abramski was charged with violating the law after he falsely checked "yes" on the federal form asserting that he was the actual buyer.

Sign up for breaking news alerts from NBC News

Writing for the court in a 5-4 majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan said the law helps keeps guns out of the hands of those not legally able to buy them, including those with mental illness or previous felony convictions. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

Public reaction was as divided as the justices.

“Five members of the Supreme Court have decided to make it a federal crime for a lawful gun owner to buy a firearm for another lawful gun owner. No federal statute says any such thing," Nelson Lund, a constitutional law expert at George Mason University School of Law,said in a statement. "The Justices are once again legislating from the bench, which violates the Constitution, and enacting a retroactive criminal law, which is even worse.”

But supporters praised the ruling.

"This is a very big and very positive decision that will save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "Once again the Supreme Court rejected efforts by the corporate gun lobby to undermine federal gun laws, reaffirming that sensible laws can have a big impact while being consistent with the Second Amendment."

Also Monday, the court voted unanimously to allow an anti-abortion group to continue its challenge to an Ohio law that makes it a crime to lie about a candidate during a political campaign.

In 2010, when Rep. Steve Driehaus, an Ohio Democrat, was running for re-election, the group, Susan B. Anthony list, prepared to put up billboards saying, "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion."

He filed a complaint, and Ohio's elections commission found that the group violated the anti-lying law. But Driehaus dropped his complaint after losing the election. The lower courts said the group could not continue its challenge to the law, but the Supreme Court's ruling Monday keeps the lawsuit alive.

Fifteen other states have similar laws, and opponents say they violate free speech. Monday's ruling says nothing about the constitutionality of those laws. It merely allows the legal battle to continue.

More decisions are expected Thursday. A total of 14 cases remain to be decided before the court's summer recess at month's end.