Termination Upheld for Officer Making “Straw Purchase” of a Restricted Firearm

Senior Associate Paul Coble successfully represented a Northern California police department in the termination of an officer for having joined with a gun shop employee in what is known as a “straw purchase” of a firearm restricted for sale only to law enforcement.

The gun shop employee had asked the officer to complete the necessary ATF form for the purchase of a firearm. On the form, the officer answered yes to the question of whether he was the actual purchaser of the firearm.  However, the officer never intended to possess the firearm, the purchase was paid for by the gun shop employee directly to the gun shop and the gun was immediately placed in the gun shop safe; the evidence showed that the officer never intended to possess or have control of the firearm.  Some sixty days later the gun shop employee completed the ruse of a “used” firearm transaction by completing an ATF form showing transfer of the firearm from the officer to him.  Once again, however, the firearm had remained in the safe for the entire period and had never been possessed, nor been intended for possession, by the officer.

As a side note, another member of that Department brought this transaction to the attention of management after this other officer was similarly approached by another employee of the same gun shop.  Interestingly, this other officer testified that he immediately recognized the impropriety of this and told that gun shop employee “No!  That’s what officers get fired for!”

In upholding the termination, a personnel board comprised of members of that community heard the evidence and by unanimous vote found that the transaction was an unlawful “straw purchase”; that the officer had been dishonest in his completion of the ATF form, and in his attempt to make it out that it was all the fault of the gun shop employee; and, that the conduct of the officer was unbecoming of a police officer.