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Huddling For the Right Reasons

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The National Action Network's Youth Move, gathered this past week in cities across the country to conduct their weekly "Youth Huddle" to focus on the issue of gun violence and to observe the third anniversary of the shootings of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and some of her staff people: a federal court judge and a young 9 year girl. The programs included both activists involved in anti-violence work, and other victims of gun violence. The continued spotlights on gun violence are all well needed because the problem of gun related violence, and gun violence connected to illegally possessed weapons, remains a critical public safety and public health issue. The issue is particularly important to underserved poor and working communities. 2014 is just getting started, and already there have been serious or fatal shootings in cities from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles. In many cases, such as the January 4, 2014 killing of 16-year-old Iquan Williams in New York City, the gun used was likely an illegally possessed weapon.

I recently wrote about the efforts of United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to introduce and seek passage of the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013. The bill would seek to establish federal offenses to prohibit and punish straw purchases of firearms and gun trafficking. Straw purchases and gun trafficking are two areas where current federal law may be lacking, or lack the specificity that enhance enforcement would require. That is why we need to pay attention to a case that is coming up for argument before the Supreme Court of the United States.

In Abramski v. United States, a case scheduled for argument before the Court on January 22nd, the issues of straw gun purchases and record keeping by federally licensed dealers will be squarely argued. The questions the Court will review are whether:

1. A gun purchaser's statement that he or she was the actual buyer of a firearm on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive Form required to be truthfully completed during a gun sale was a false statement "material to the lawfulness of the sale" under federal law when the purchaser brought the weapon for another person and both the purchaser and other person were eligible to purchase a firearm and,

2. Whether the identity of the actual buyer of a firearm is information that is required to be kept in the records of a federal firearms licensed dealer under federal law.

The arguments will involve the detailed discussion of federal statutes related to gun sales; the information required from purchasers, and the information that must be maintained by dealers. Not the kind of sexy legal case that draws a lot of public attention. What the Court does with this case will have tremendous effect on law enforcement's ability to stem the illegal flow of weapons that can result from straw purchases. This is the kind of issue that has allowed a 16-year-old to be able to get hold of a handgun to kill another 16-year-old.

While the case may not be on the public's radar, it was on the scope of several State Attorney Generals, including those from New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Hampshire, Oregon, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, states and Districts that confront daily the problems associated with straw gun purchases and the availability of illegal weapons that are brought on the streets of communities of color and poor communities that truly suffer from the gun violence associated with illegally possessed weapons.

We need to be aware of these types of cases that are coming before the courts because they have consequences that matter for many. The pain, agony and tears of sorrow that are so often shed by the families of victims to gun violence should not be shed in vain. We are a nation that honors and protects the right of our citizens to legally possess weapons; the Court must be mindful of those that suffer when the laws are abused, violated or manipulated in ways that lead to putting guns in the hands of those not eligible to legally possess them.

Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis, unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.