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West Virginia works to address federal overreach

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Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Dec. 4 that West Virginia and 25 other states and one territory have filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing a federal government attempt to prosecute legal gun owners who wish to sell a weapon to another person who can legally own and purchase firearms.
 
"Our Office is proud to lead a bipartisan group of 27 states and territories in this brief to oppose the U.S. Department of Justice's attempt to unilaterally create a federal restriction on firearm sales between law-abiding citizens," Morrisey said. "We believe that every legal gun owner in this state and nation should be interested in the outcome of this case."
 
The case, Abramski v. United States of America, challenges whether federal law prohibits citizens who legally buy a firearm from a licensed dealer with the intention of then selling that gun to another private citizen who also may legally own and purchase firearms. The Obama administration argues that the citizen who buys and then sells the gun is acting as a "straw purchaser," which they claim is illegal under several federal statutes.
 
The states, however, argue that Congress has never passed a federal law that prohibits such purchases. At most, the laws relied on by the United States prohibit private citizens from selling guns to people who are prohibited from owning firearms, such as minors, convicted felons, or people who have been diagnosed as having mental illnesses. It is up to the states and their citizens to decide whether to implement additional regulations on private gun sales.
 
West Virginia is joined in the brief by attorneys general representing Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.
 
"This case is important to West Virginia citizens who wish to practice their Second Amendment rights and sell firearms to other legal West Virginia gun owners," Morrisey said. "The State of West Virginia does not discourage private gun sales, but the Department of Justice wants to ensnare innocent West Virginian gun owners in a web of criminal laws if they try to sell their guns.

"This federal overreach is a blatant attempt to overstep state regulations and Congress in order to steer more gun sales to federally licensed dealers, who then make federal records of every transaction."
 
The states' amicus brief is in support of a former Roanoke, Va., police officer, Bruce Abramski, who purchased a gun in 2009 using a law enforcement discount and sold it to his elderly uncle, who lived in Pennsylvania. Both Abramski and his uncle could legally own firearms and made the transaction in accordance with Pennsylvania gun laws, including a background check of the purchaser. However, federal authorities prosecuted Abramski on the grounds that he made false statements on the gun purchase form.
 
In January 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Abramski's conviction, saying that such "straw purchases" are illegal under federal law. In October, the Supreme Court agreed to review the conviction.
 
"Our Office is very concerned about the federal government's targeting of law-abiding gun buyers," Morrisey said. "The federal government is attempting to circumvent Congress and set aside state regulations that don't prevent private gun sales, and instead make sure there is a federal record of every gun bought or sold in the United States. While no one wants guns to end up in the hands of a potential or real criminal, the administration's interpretation oversteps the law and could make criminals out of innocent citizens."
 
Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 22, 2014, with a decision to come by the end of the court's session in June.