UPDATED 6/17/2016 – see below
Today, Philadelphia Inquirer Daily News columnist Helen Ubinas admitted to seemingly violating state and federal firearms laws in relation to her purchase of a rifle for purposes of an article detailing the process to lawfully purchase a firearm.
Initially, Columnist Ubinas chronicled her purchase of an Ar-15 rifle from a Philadelphia Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) in her article – I bought an Ar-15 semi-automatic rifle in Philly in 7 minutes. Thereafter, she did a live video stream on Facebook, where she provided further detail on her purchase of the rifle, including her admissions to seemingly violating state and federal firearms laws, and answered viewers questions. (To ensure that her admissions are preserved for the District Attorney’s investigation, I have downloaded a copy of the live stream).
In her article, while making comments that the process was “obscene” and “horrifying” because she, as a non-prohibited person, was not denied or delayed in exercising her Constitutional Right and calling for MORE laws in relation to the purchase of firearms, she acknowledges that she “felt a little squeamish about not telling him who I was and what I was trying to do.” Well, maybe, just maybe, she was feeling squeamish because she was violating the law, but we’ll get to that in a few. She also declares that “[a]s I walked to my car with my brand-new gun, I wasn’t sure what to do with it.”
During the live feed, Columnist Ubinas admits at approximately the 1 minute mark that she has never purchased a firearm and that “this is all new to me.”She also acknowledges to going through a 1 page and a half of questions “very quick” around the 2 minute, 10 second mark. Maybe she should have taken her time to review the questions and the accompanying instructions…but I digress. She then, starting at approximately 2:45, declared that she walked out of the store with the rifle “not sure what to do with it cause the assignment was to see if I could do this. Once I did I wasn’t quite sure, as I said in my column, what to do with this gun.” Then, in relation to questions as to what she did with the gun, she admits “I drove around Philadelphia for a while with it in my car unsure what to do with it,” before she decided to go to the Police Station and turn it in. She then, at approximately 4:15, goes on to explain that she purchased it using her [corporate] credit card and she’s “going to need to explain it to somebody when they see that on the bill.”
Apparently, due to her failure to review the questions (and instructions) on the ATF 4473 Form that she filled out, as well as, failing to investigate the legality of her “assignment”, she made a straw purchase and then seemingly violated Pennsylvania’s transportation laws.
Not even two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in Abramski v. U.S. held that where even a non-prohibited person paid for a firearm on behalf of another non-prohibited person, such constituted a straw purchase, which is illegal under federal law. In relation to Columnist Ubinas, she admits that she was on “assignment” and used her company’s credit card for the Ar-15; yet, she is the one that purchased it. Even if she were to allege that she purchased it on behalf of the company, which can be lawful in certain contexts, she admitted to telling the FFL that she was purchasing it for herself and therefore failed to comply with 27 C.F.R. 478.124(g), which again results in the purchase being a straw purchase. Furthermore, Pennsylvania law also prohibits straw purchasers pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. 6111.
But, that isn’t her only seeming violation of law. She also admits to seemingly violating Pennsylvania’s transportation law – 18 Pa.C.S. 6106. Section 6106(a)(1) provides, in pertinent part, that “Except as provided in paragraph 2, any person who carries a firearm in any vehicle …without a valid and lawfully issued license under this chapter commits a felony of the third degree.” Paragraph 2 then provides that the grading for the offense shall be a misdemeanor of the first degree, if the individual was otherwise eligible for a license to carry firearms. Of course, 6106(b) provides exceptions to the law but none of the exceptions including for “media purposes” and only permit transport between, inter alia, one’s home and range or business. As there is no exception for driving “around Philadelphia for a while with it in my car unsure what to do with it” and since the process was new to her, it does not sound as if she has a license to carry firearms and therefore would be in violation of the law. There are also those pesky pictures in the article of her holding the Ar-15 and of the Ar-15 in an open box with the manuals displayed that suggest that she drove around for a photo-op…
While vociferously stating that we must enact more laws to prevent individuals from violating the existing laws (such as those prohibiting murder), it appears that Columnist Ubinas’ has violated the law herself, in her haste to complete her assignment. As I am sure that she does not believe that she should be treated specially and that violators of the law must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, I am sure she will turn herself in and plead guilty to these offenses. Otherwise, her position would be quite hypocritical.
UPDATE: It appears that other journalists are now being investigated for similar conduct. CBS News Reporter Paula Reid is being investigated for stating that she was purchasing an Ar-15 for herself, when in fact, it was for a third-party. See the article here.