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Supreme Court hands down important decision on federal gun crime

A so-called “straw” gun purchase is where one person buys a firearm from a legitimate retail outlet for someone else. Federal charges are very serious, particularly for gun crimes; convictions for some weapons offenses can carry decades long sentences. But can the federal government prohibit straw purchases when both the buyer and the intended recipient of a firearm are lawfully eligible to purchase a gun?

According to a narrow majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, yes. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court recently ruled that a man who bought a handgun for his uncle using his expired police identification credentials to secure a discount could be charged with making false statements as a straw purchaser.

Both the buyer and his uncle were eligible to purchase firearms, but the majority of the court rejected this as a defense to the charges. Tempers flared as both sides to the debate made their arguments. A number of states even chimed in: 26 states filed briefs in support of the gun buyer’s view of the law, while nine states and the District of Columbia submitted briefs saying that the straw purchase was correctly criminalized.

This important case made it clear that straw purchasers, even if they buy a gun on behalf of a law-abiding friend or relative, can be held criminally liable. Fair? Some would say no. But it is the law, and if you are facing prosecution for a gun crime, a strong legal defense may be your only chance to bend the outcome in your favor.

Source: The New York Daily News, "Supreme Court: Federal government can ban ’straw' purchases of guns," The Associated Press, June 16, 2014

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