Saturday, Jun 25, 2016
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EDITORIAL

Dodged a bullet

Second Amendment absolutists say we don’t need new gun laws — we just need to enforce those we have. But even a law designed to thwart criminals from illegally buying guns in straw purchases doesn’t always earn respect.

Bruce Abramski, a former Virginia police officer, didn’t think the federal law on straw purchases applied to him. When he took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the law only barely dodged a bullet.

Someone who acquires a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer must fill in a form attesting that the purchaser is the actual buyer. The goal is to make sure that the buyer is not an intermediary for someone else. It is a way to keep guns out of the hands of felons and help police investigate serious gun crimes.

Mr. Abramski was buying a handgun for his uncle, but he falsely asserted that he was the actual buyer. When his false statement was discovered, his defense was basically that both he and his uncle had a right to own the gun, and that the law did not apply to him.

Not so, said the Supreme Court in a recent 5-4 decision. In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan conceded the wording of the law was unclear, but said its overall meaning was not. To find otherwise, Justice Kagan wrote, “would virtually repeal ... the gun law’s core provisions.”

Good sense and good policy survived a close call. But why is keeping guns out criminals’ hands even open to dispute?

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