Supreme Court rules ‘straw purchases’ illegal

Washington — In a rare blow to the gun lobby, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that gun buyers must report when they buy firearms for other people – even if they are legal gun owners.

The 5-4 decision upheld two lower courts that had ruled against so-called straw purchasers, even though Congress left loopholes in gun control laws that the gun lobby said made it legal to buy a gun from a licensed dealer without reporting the actual final owner of that gun.

“Putting true numbskulls to one side, anyone purchasing a gun for criminal purposes would avoid leaving a paper trail by the simple expedient of hiring a straw,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority.

Connecticut lawmakers sought to strengthen the prohibition against straw purchases through legislation, but Congress has rejected even the most modest changes to gun laws.

“Today, the Supreme Court confirmed that federal law requires gun purchasers to undergo background checks,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District. “Background checks are a critical tool for keeping guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, and dangerously mentally ill, which is why today’s ruling upholding federal law against straw purchasers is so important.”

While gun-control advocates like Esty  hailed the Supreme Court ruling, some also said  legislation is still needed to broaden FBI background checks of gun buyers.

“Closing other major loopholes in our background check system requires action from Congress,” said Rep, Mike Thompson, D-Calif. “Right now, those same prohibited purchasers who seek out a straw person to buy their guns can just as easily go online or drive to a gun show and get a gun with no questions asked. That’s why we need to pass legislation that requires background checks for all commercial gun sales.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy said “while this decision is a good one, I want to again call on Congress to do what the vast, vast majority of Americans want them to do – pass common sense gun violence prevention legislation.”

The straw purchase case was brought by a former Virginia police officer who bought a Glock 19 handgun for his uncle in Pennsylvania and was convicted of “knowingly making false statements.”  Both men were legal gun owners, but the purchaser filled out a federal background check form indicating that he was the “actual buyer” of the firearm.

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