Gun Purchase Leads to Fed’s Termination

This former Forest Service employee ran into trouble when he purchased a firearm for a third party and was not entirely up front in filling out the required ATF form.

Here’s a case where the agency came down hard on a law enforcement officer with the Forest Service in Waldport, Oregon who bought a firearm for a third party but failed to disclose that on the ATF form required at the time of purchase. (Scott v. Department of Agriculture, CAFC No. 2015-3049 (nonprecedential), 4/15/15)

According to the appeals court opinion, when Mr. Scott purchased a gun from a private dealer, he certified on the ATF form that he was the “actual buyer” and was not buying the firearm “on behalf of another person.” (Opinion p. 2) In fact the ATF form asks this question: “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form?” with an accompanying warning in bold type: “You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you.” (p. 2)

And for those not familiar with this ATF form, there is a very specific certification above the signature line that includes this language: “I understand that answering ‘yes’ to [this] question…if I am not the actual buyer is a crime punishable as a felony under Federal law…” (p. 2)

The agency Inspector General reported that Scott had falsely certified since he purchased the firearm for a third party who was taking part in a Forest Service work-study program. Scott admitted this. The agency removed him for lack of candor. (p. 3)

Scott argued to the Merit Systems Protection Board on appeal that removal was unreasonable—he erred but he actions did not add up to lack of candor. The Board affirmed Scott’s removal and he took his case to the appeals court.

Scott tried to persuade the court that although he knew the third party could not purchase a firearm, he did not know that what he did was unlawful and that proof of this is he made no effort to hide the purchase. (p. 5) The court’s opinion indicates it finds the facts clearly added up to proof of lack of candor: he signed the form with the bold face warnings above his signature, he knew the third person could not buy the firearm on her own, he let the third party pick out the firearm and he then purchased it, and the dealer who sold it said he would not have sold the gun to Scott if he had known what was going on. (p. 5)

Bottom line: the court affirms Scott’s removal.

This turned out to be a costly mistake since Scott is pretty much out of appeal rights with this court decision.

Scott v. USDA (2015-3049)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.