In another 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court gave the gun lobbyists at the NRA gun lobbyists a bit of a smackdown this morning, when they ruled that anyone purchasing firearms must state whether they’re buying them for other people. This marks the second time SCOTUS has opposed the gunloons this term. Back in March, they gave a unanimous ruling that federal laws aimed at keeping guns away from those engaged in domestic violence apply regardless of their crime, even if it was extremely minor, such as “offensive touching.”
This latest decision upheld a couple of appeals court rulings against so-called straw purchasers. These came even as the Supremes acknowledged the loopholes that Congress had left open in earlier gun control laws that were passed during the 20th Century. They noted that it would make little sense to allow gun purchasers to buy guns from licensed dealers, and not report the eventual final owner of the gun.
This would seem to make sense, right? The purpose of background checks in the first place is to make sure guns don’t get into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to allow, say, a convicted felon to ask someone to buy a gun for them. It also doesn’t make sense to allow a gun buyer to lie about the purchase. As Justice Kagan wrote for the majority,
“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. … No piece of information is more important under federal firearms law than the identity of a gun’s purchaser — the person who acquires a gun as a result of a transaction with a licensed dealer.”
Yet, it was a 5-4 decision, and the usual right wing whiners on the court actually said people should be able to lie about who they are in order to buy a gun. Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, who has taken Kagan hunting a few times, wrote the incredibly mind-numbing dissent. This is part of it:
“The court makes it a federal crime for one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner. Whether or not that is a sensible result, the statutes Congress enacted do not support it.”
Actually, in this case, they do. And as usual for Scalia, he has mischaracterized the law. The law intends to check the background of the gun’s owner, not a proxy. The obvious intent of Congress was to prevent people from purchasing guns for others, some of whom may not be law-abiding. They left a couple of loopholes in the law, which is unfortunate, but their intent is clear. In this case, a former Virginia police officer purchased a Glock 19 handgun for an uncle of his who lives in Pennsylvania. But the officer, when he purchased the gun, indicated on a federal form that he was the “actual buyer” of the firearm. The purchaser claimed that, because both men were legally licensed to own a gun, no one actually violated the law, because “Congress didn’t use terms like ‘true buyer’ or ‘true purchaser’ or ‘actual buyer’ because they are not concerned about the ultimate recipients of firearms or what happens to a gun after it leaves the gun store,” according to the purchaser’s attorney. The Justice Department, however, argued that Congress always sought to identify the final gun purchaser, but did not want to intrude on private transactions.
Scalia, however, openly mocked the majority’s assertion that the uncle was the ultimate purchaser of the gun under federal firearms laws, by making the most ridiculous “argument” possible. Scalia posited,
“If I give my son $10 and tell him to pick up milk and eggs at the store, no English speaker would say that the store ‘sells’ the milk and eggs to me.”
The problems with this argument are many. For example, there are no restrictions on milk and egg ownership and possession. There are legal restrictions on firearms ownership and possession. Some people are not allowed to own a gun, and the screening is to make sure those who are not legally allowed to own or carry guns. In this case, it’s possible to say “no harm, no foul.” But what if the police officer was buying the gun for a convicted felon in return for a $500 bonus? Would Scalia make the same lame argument?
Again, the purpose of the background check is to make sure bad guys can’t buy guns. SCOTUS is right in this case.