In another federal criminal decision issued last Friday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the identity of a firearms purchaser is always material to the lawfulness of the purchase of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6). This decision directly conflicts with the Fifth Circuit’s 1997 holding in U.S. v. Polk that § 922(a)(6) was not violated where both the defendant and his “straw purchaser” were eligible to purchase firearms legally.
In Frazier, the defendants were involved in smuggling firearms from the United States into Canada. The evidence showed that Frazier purchased guns, then paid a woman to order the same guns from the same shop shortly thereafter. Later, another woman ordered additional guns for Frazier.
To convict under § 922(a)(6), the government must prove that the defendant made a false statement regarding “a fact material to the lawfulness of the sale or disposition of [a] firearm.” This section is violated when “an unlawful purchaser uses a straw man purchaser to obtain a firearm.” In this case, however, Frazier was a lawful purchaser using a straw man. In Polk, the Fifth Circuit reasoned that, in such a case, the false statements made regarding the identity of the purchaser were not “material to the lawfulness of the sale of firearms” so there could be no liability under § 922(a)(6).
The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. Under pre-Bonner v. City of Prichard precedent, the Fifth Circuit upheld the § 922(a)(6) conviction of a defendant who had provided a false address in connection with the purchase of a firearm in U.S. v. Grudger. Grudger noted that the sale of a firearm is unlawful under § 922(b)(5) unless the seller records the name, age, and place of residence of the purchaser. Therefore, providing a false address is a misrepresentation that is material to the lawfulness of the sale. For this reason, the Eleventh Circuit held in Frazier that the misrepresentation violated § 922(b)(5) and, correspondingly, § 922(a)(6), even though the actual purchaser was eligible to purchase firearms.
The opinion in U.S. v. Frazier is available here.