Judge upholds banning straw buys

Blair County Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle has upheld the constitutionality of Pennsylvania laws prohibiting straw purchases of firearms.

A straw purchase occurs if an individual buys a firearm for another person except as a gift for a spouse, parent, child, grandparent or grandchild.

Pennsylvania State Police claim Brenda E. Shultz, 52, made a straw purchase in 2011 when she bought a .45-caliber Taurus pistol for her boyfriend, Jeffrey Lee Michael, at a Hollidaysburg gun shop.

Michael, who lived with Shultz at 107 Lower Reese Road, Hollidaysburg, used the gun Dec. 21 when he killed three people in a shooting spree along Juniata Valley Road, Frankstown Township.

Michael was eventually killed when he was confronted by state police.

Troopers investigating the series of incidents that took the lives of Kenneth Lynn, 60, his son-in-law William H. “Bill” Rhodes Jr., 38, and Kimberly Scott, 58, discovered that Shultz purchased the gun at Campbell Sporting Goods Store Inc., Hollidaysburg, on Jan. 29, 2011.

In tracing the gun, state troopers interviewed Shultz twice and indicated in testimony during a September hearing that she went with Michael to the gun store and purchased the handgun for him because he thought he was under a protection-from-abuse order and therefore not eligible to buy the gun himself.

As it turned out, the PFA order was not in place when the gun was purchased.

Doyle found during the September hearing there was enough evidence to try Shultz on state charges of making false statements under the penalty of law and making a materially false written statement when she agreed on state and federal firearms applications she was the “actual buyer” of the firearm.

Shultz’s Altoona attorney, Lucas Kelleher, is challenging the constitutionality of the state statutes because, he claimed, they are “vague” and “ambiguous” when asking the purchaser if he or she is the “actual buyer” for the firearm.

He claimed that Shultz and Michael were “co-habitants,” which is a category not addressed in the laws.

Doyle stated that for a law to be void due to vagueness, it must be “so vague that persons of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application.”

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio in a legal brief argued the state statutes “clearly prohibits” someone from knowingly and intelligently making a false statement and that Shultz “was clearly not the actual buyer of the firearm because she bought it for Michael.”

Doyle said both state and federal forms contained warnings that explained an individual is not the actual buyer if she is acquiring the firearm on behalf of another person.

The state form went on to list the close family exceptions who could receive a firearm as a gift.

The federal form went on to say: “If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm[s] to you.”

Doyle concluded both forms contain definitions of who is an “actual buyer.”

The next step for Shultz will be to go to trial.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.