WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court said Monday that the federal government may strictly enforce a law that prohibits straw purchases of guns intended for others, siding with gun control groups and the Obama administration.
The court by a 5-4 vote upheld the conviction of Bruce James Abramski Jr., a former police officer in Virginia, who bought a Glock handgun for his uncle in Pennsylvania. Since both men were eligible to own guns, Abramski claimed he had not run afoul of the law.
But Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court's liberals plus Justice Anthony Kennedy, said the government had good reason to prevent "straw purchasers" and insist that the person who buys a gun be the weapon's legitimate owner.
Background checks of those buying guns keep them out of the hands of convicted felons and the mentally ill, Kagan said, and also allow law enforcement to trace guns used in crimes back to their purchaser.
"Abramski's reading would undermine — indeed, for all important purposes, would virtually repeal — the gun law's core provision," Kagan wrote.
In addition to Kennedy, she was joined in the opinion by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, saying it is not a crime for "one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner." His dissent was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
Also Monday, the court:
• Unanimously allowed an antiabortion group to pursue its challenge to an Ohio law that bars people from making false statements about political candidates during a campaign.
• Rejected Argentina's appeal of lower court rulings ordering it to pay $1.3 billion to holders of bonds on which it defaulted.
• Agreed to consider whether people who post violent or threatening language on Facebook and other Internet forums must show intent to follow through on their threats in order to be prosecuted.
• Left in place a lower court ruling that said public high school graduations in a church adorned with religious symbols violated separation of church and state.