The federal Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968, 18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq., regulates the sale of firearms by licensed dealers. It also prohibits certain individuals from owning or possessing firearms. A "straw buyer" or "straw purchaser" is someone who purchases a gun for someone else, possibly a prohibited buyer, without disclosing this on the form required by the federal government for gun sales. The U.S. Supreme Court recently considered whether it violates the GCA for someone to conduct a straw purchase of a gun for someone who is not a prohibited buyer. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that it is a violation. Abramski v. United States, 573 U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 2259 (2014).
People who are prohibited by the GCA from owning or possessing a gun include people who have been convicted of a felony, undocumented immigrants, people committed to mental institutions, drug addicts, and fugitives. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Licensed dealers are prohibited from selling a gun to anyone whom they know, or have "reasonable cause to believe," is a prohibited buyer. Id. at § 922 (d). A purchaser typically must appear in person to purchase a gun and provide personal identifying information to the dealer by completing Form 4473, the "Firearms Transaction Record." The gun dealer checks the form against a national database of prohibited buyers. A person commits a federal crime if he or she "knowingly...make[s] any false or fictitious oral or written statement" in connection with buying a gun from a licensed dealer. Id. at § 922(a)(6).
Question 11.a. on Form 4473 asks whether the purchaser is the actual buyer. The defendant in Abramski was a former police officer who intended to buy a gun for his uncle using a discount he thought he could get by showing his police identification. He falsely answered "yes" to Question 11.a., but he then learned he could no longer use the discount. He was indicted for false statements under § 922(a)(6) and unauthorized firearms dealing under § 922(a)(1)(A). He entered a conditional guilty plea, which allowed him to appeal.