Dodged a bullet: The Supreme Court narrowly supports a gun law

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Second Amendment absolutists are always saying that we don’t need new gun laws — we just need to enforce those we have. How about respecting the ones we have? Even a law designed to thwart criminals from illegally acquiring guns through so-called straw purchases doesn’t qualify for respect.

Bruce James Abramski Jr., a former police officer in Virginia, 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 buying a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer must fill in a form asking whether the purchaser is the actual buyer. The goal is to make sure that the person doing the buying is not an intermediary — a straw purchaser — for someone else. It is a way to keep guns out of the hands of felons and help authorities investigate serious crimes involving guns.

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

Not so, said the Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin last week. In writing the majority opinion, Associate Justice Elena Kagan conceded the wording of the law was somewhat unclear, but its overall meaning was clear. To find otherwise, she wrote, “would virtually repeal ... the gun law’s core provisions.”

While common sense and good public policy survived a close call, why is keeping guns out of the hands of criminals even open to dispute?

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