Over at Addicting Info, Jameson Parker complains that, as he puts it in the headline, “NRA Argues People Should Be Allowed To Lie On Gun Registration Forms, Defeating The Whole Purpose.”
This arose out of a criminal case decided by the Supreme Court a few months ago, where Bruce Abramski bought a gun on behalf of his uncle, but filled in the paperwork with his own identifying information instead of his uncle’s. This is, of course, against the rules. Abramaski, with a little help from the NRA, managed to take this all the way to the Supreme Court:
Arbramski’s argument was basically that since his uncle would have passed the background check, and is legally allowed to own a gun, the question of whether the firearm was for him or for his uncle is irrelevant. However, if he had indicated that he was purchasing the gun for someone else, the sale would not have been completed, though, until that person completed the background check paperwork.
That was not a winning argument, which pleases Jameson Parker, because Jameson Parker hates gun owners.
Bruce Abramski bought a gun, which he was legally eligible to own. He then sold it to his uncle, who was also legally allowed to own a gun. What makes this a crime is that the paperwork was filled out wrong: It had Abramski’s name on it instead of his uncle’s. Had the uncle come in and filled out the paperwork in his own name and purchased the gun directly, it would have been entirely legal, even though the end result — the uncle owning a gun, which he is legally allowed to do — would have been exactly the same.
Actually, it’s worse than that. One of the keys facts in the case against Abramski is that when he bought the gun he checked a box indicating that he was the actual buyer. Now if he had gone into that gun shop intending to buy a gun for himself, then he would have truly been the actual buyer, and everything would have been completely legal. And then if he happened to run into his uncle, who admired the gun, then Abramski could have sold his uncle the gun as a private sale, which also would have been legal.
The problem for Abramski is that at the time he was filling out the paperwork at the dealer and checking the box that said he was the buyer, he was actually planning to sell the gun to his uncle, and having that thought in his head is the thing that turns out to be a federal crime.
On the other hand, if the thought he had in his head was that he would sell the gun to someone, but he didn’t have a particular someone in mind — maybe he just figured he could sell it to someone in his gun-loving family — that would have been legal too. It would also have been legal if he was thinking of transferring the gun to his uncle as a gift instead of a sale.
It’s easy to understand why Abramski fought his criminal charges – he had gotten in trouble and wanted to get out of trouble. It’s harder to justify the NRA’s role in this. …the gun group is turning towards unthinking fanaticism at an alarming rate. No longer does it represent sensible gun legislation which supports gun rights, instead it has a knee-jerk reaction to oppose any limits to guns at all.
Making it illegal to think about selling a gun when you’re buying it is not sensible gun legislation. This is, in fact, an excellent example of why gun owners and the NRA oppose legislation that often appears sensible on the surface (especially as reported in the not-terribly-gun-friendly media). The craziness doesn’t become apparent until you look at the details and think about how they could be abused by people acting in bad faith. And when it comes to gun ownership, a lot of people in authority have proven themselves willing to act in bad faith.
There are many rules – big and small – that people find annoyingly hard to follow, but inconvenience isn’t an excuse to disobey them. In this case, the rule isn’t even a minor one, it’s a massive public safety issue.
No, it’s not. It’s purely a paperwork thing. I assume that the goal of these paperwork rules is to prevent someone who’s not allowed to own a gun from getting someone else to buy one for them. That sounds like it’s probably a pretty good thing to outlaw. But Abramski didn’t do that. He didn’t sell the gun to someone who’s not allowed to have one. He just broke the rules for filling out the paperwork.
Knowing who is buying guns is really important. The background check isn’t an arbitrary invasion of privacy as some conservatives claim, it is one of the biggest tools we have to preventing guns from getting into the wrong hands. It also allows police officers the ability to trace guns after they’ve been used in crimes.
According to the Daily Kos, which is not exactly a right wing mouthpiece, when Abramski transferred the gun to his uncle, they went to a gun dealer and filled out paperwork for the transfer, so they didn’t even break the paper trail for the gun.
I’m not arguing that Abramski didn’t break the law. (The legal issues are far too convoluted for me to untangle.) And I’m not arguing that he did nothing wrong in filling out the paperwork in his own name. (Although in this case it’s hard to see the harm.) What I am arguing is that he did nothing terribly wrong. I certainly don’t think he did anything so wrong that it deserves the potential pair of 5-year sentences that Abramski could have received. Nobody else appears to have thought so either, since Abramski’s actual sentence was 5 years of probation.
Parker characterizes this as the NRA saying it was OK to lie when buying a gun, which is probably technically accurate, but it misses the point that the lie seems to have been of little practical significance. As far as I can tell (and I am not a lawyer, so don’t use this as a guide), Abramski wouldn’t have been convicted if he had
- made his uncle buy the gun directly,
- bought the gun for the purpose of giving it to his uncle as a gift,
- bought the gun for himself but then changed his mind and sold it to his uncle later, or
- bought the gun intending to resell it to someone else for a profit.
Note that all four scenarios have one thing in common with each other and with what actually happened: The uncle ended up with the gun. In other words, the only difference between legal and illegal is the paperwork, and how important is the paperwork, really? This is basically just a gun-specific variant on the false statements law, which makes it a serious crime to tell a lie, even if the lie itself has no serious consequences.
It serves little public purpose to punish people severely for trivial and harmless lies. It also serves little public purpose to punish people severely for filling out paperwork incorrectly when there’s no real-world harm. It becomes just another way for law enforcement and prosecutors to get an easy notch on their belts, or to harass people they don’t like.
Gun laws are not the only legal area that’s full of landmines where filling out some paperwork incorrectly or breaking some obscure minor rule can land you in a world of hurt, which is why it would be a good thing if Jameson Parker and other anti-gun pundits didn’t cheer on this kind of nonsense because it’s happening to people they don’t like. Because what goes around, comes around.