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Media Alerts - Fourth Circuit: United States v. Abramski
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February 22, 2013
  Fourth Circuit: United States v. Abramski
Headline: Identity of True Purchaser Is Material to Lawfulness of Firearms Sale

Area of Law: Criminal

Issue Presented: Whether Bruce Abramski made a false statement that was material to the lawfulness of a firearm sale when he represented himself to be the actual purchaser of a firearm on ATF Form 4473, when in fact he was not.

Brief Summary: Bruce Abramski, a former police officer, offered to buy a Glock 19 handgun for his uncle to take advantage of a professional discount he received. When purchasing the firearm, Abramski answered "yes" to a question on one of the required forms that asked whether he was the actual purchaser of the firearm. He was subsequently charged with, and pled guilty to, making a false statement that was material to the lawfulness of a firearm sale. Abramski argued that because he and his uncle were both legally allowed to purchase the firearm, his misrepresentation was not material to the lawfulness of the sale. The Fourth Circuit rejected this argument.

Significance : The Fourth Circuit rejected the Fifth Circuit and joined the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits in ruling that the identity of the actual purchaser of a firearm is material to the lawfulness of a sale under 18 U.S.C. §922(a)(6).

Extended Summary: When his uncle, Angel Alvarez, expressed a desire for a Glock 19 handgun, Bruce Abramski offered to make the purchase. As a former police officer, Abramski received a professional discount for the gun purchase that his uncle was not eligible for. When making the purchase, Abramski filled out ATF Form 4473, which contained several "yes-or-no" questions. One of the questions asked whether he was the actual purchaser of the firearm. The question also stated, "Warning: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you." Abramski answered "yes" to the question, buying the Glock 19 for his uncle. Alvarez mailed Abramski a check for the price of the handgun, and Abramski transferred the weapon to his uncle in Pennsylvania through a licensed firearms dealer.

Five days before Abramski purchased the gun, Franklin Community Bank in Rocky Mount, Virginia was robbed. The FBI suspected Abramski for the robbery because he had been fired from the police department in 2007 for allegedly stealing money during an investigation; he looked similar to the masked robber; and he was facing personal problems, including a house in foreclosure. Abramski was arrested on charges relating to the bank robbery, and the FBI secured search warrants for his parent's home and his marital home. Upon searching his marital home, the agents seized a green zippered bag from the Franklin Community Bank that contained the receipt for the transfer of the gun to his uncle.

The bank robbery charges against Abramski were eventually dropped. However, he was indicted for, and eventually pled guilty to, violation of two federal firearms statutes. These offenses were 1) making a false statement that was material to the lawfulness of a firearm sale and 2) making a false statement with respect to information required to be kept in the records of a licensed firearms dealer. In his guilty plea, Abramski reserved the right to appeal his failed motions to dismiss.

On appeal, Abramski argued that the District Court should have granted his motion to dismiss because Congress never intended to punish actions such as his when it enacted the Gun Control Act of 1968. Instead, he contended that Congress intended to punish "straw purchasers" -- those who buy guns for people who are not legally allowed to purchase them directly. Abramski argued that his misrepresentation on the ATF form was not material to the lawfulness of the sale because both he and his uncle were legally allowed to purchase firearms directly. Abramski based his argument on the Fifth Circuit's ruling in United States v. Polk, where the court found that the statute was meant to criminalize false statements that were intended to deceive federal firearms dealers with respect to facts material to the lawfulness of the sale of firearms. In the Fifth Circuit's view, if the true purchaser could lawfully purchase a firearm directly, the statute did not apply because the sale would be lawful by either purchaser.

The District Court rejected Abramski's Polk argument and instead followed rulings of the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits, reasoning that, "although the lawfulness of a sale may change depending on the identity of the purchaser, the fact that the identity of the purchaser is material to the lawfulness of the sale does not." The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court, finding that the identity of the actual purchaser of a firearm is always material to the lawfulness of the sale.

To read the full opinion, please visit: http://pacer.ca4.uscourts.gov/...df/114992.P.pdf


Panel: Judges King, Shedd, and Davis

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/23/13

Docket Number: No. 11-4992

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Devin Farrelly

Counsel: ARGUED: Rhonda Lee Overstreet, OVERSTREET SLOAN, PLLC, Bedford, Virginia, for Appellant. Thomas Ernest Booth, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. ON BRIEF: William H. Cleaveland, WILLIAM H. CLEAVELAND, PLC, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellant. Timothy J. Heaphy, United States Attorney, Donald R. Wolthuis, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Roanoke, Virginia; Lanny A. Breuer, Assistant Attorney General, John D. Buretta, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: King, J.

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 02/22/2013 11:50 AM     4th Circuit  

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