How can they warn of straw buys without knowing what it is?

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Straw buys aren’t exactly the hot topic when it comes to the Second Amendment debate, but it’s close. We’ve had numerous people, including the president, claim that straw purchases are a major issue that needs to be addressed.


Now, understand that if you want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, such purchases are going to be a problem no matter what laws you pass. So long as someone can get guns lawfully, someone else will be willing to get some of those to buy guns for them.

Yet for all the rhetoric about straw buys, it seems at least some don’t seem to understand what they even are.

In late April, federal prosecutors submitted a criminal complaint against Michael Harris, a man who was caught buying several guns at a gun show in Knoxville. The affidavit said Harris wore a red hat and red shorts, the color of the Bloods street gang.

Court documents said agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives worked with the Knoxville Police Department before Harris was arrested. They said they watched him buy guns and use FaceTime to show guns to others. They said it was a sign he was buying guns for others.

The complaint said Harris previously had been convicted of a felony and was prohibited from owning weapons.

However, Harris admitted to investigators, according to the affidavit, that he bought those weapons from sellers who “did not make him fill out paperwork or ask for identification.” They’re called “straw purchases,” according to authorities.


Except, those aren’t straw buys.

A straw purchase happens when someone who can lawfully purchase a firearm goes into a gun store and uses their own information to purchase a firearm for someone who is prohibited from buying one.

What happened here was just a face-to-face transaction.

Now, the very next paragraph does explicitly state that dealers at gun shows must conduct a background check and that Harris didn’t buy from a licensed dealer. He bought from individuals who were there trying to sell their own personal firearms.

But that ain’t a straw buy, and if the authorities can’t tell the difference, we’ve got a problem.

See, language matters. We use it so that we can be easily understood. We don’t say “wood” when we mean “water” because those are two totally different things. Trying to use them interchangeably will do nothing but cause confusion.

By calling a transaction like this a straw purchase, what’s happening is that those who want to paint licensed gun dealers as irresponsible will be able to throw this out there and muddy the waters. No licensed dealer did anything with these sales, but some people won’t read that far.


More than that, when people talk about “straw buys,” we’ll not be able to be sure exactly what they mean by that, thus making meaningful communication less than useless.

Nothing of the sort happened here, and if the authorities quoted here don’t know the difference, just how many people out there are screaming about straw buys without knowing what they’re even talking about?

Join the conversation as a VIP Member