A US appeals court has ruled against a longstanding federal restriction that prohibits sales of handguns to adults younger than 21, finding that the age-based ban is unconstitutional.
“We refuse to relegate either the Second Amendment or 18- to 20-year-olds to a second-class status,” Judge Julius Richardson wrote in Tuesday’s ruling by the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
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The 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel found that Congress failed to show sufficient public interest to justify precluding 18- to 20-year-olds from enjoying their full Second Amendment rights when it passed the law in question in 1968. Congress used “disproportionate” crime rates to craft the legislation, restricting the rights of “overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens,” and it failed to show that licensed dealers were the source of guns used by young adults to commit crimes, the court ruled.
“There must be a reason why constitutional rights cannot be enjoyed until a certain age,” said Richardson, who was appointed to the bench by then-President Donald Trump.
Our nation’s most cherished constitutional rights vest no later than 18. And the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms is no different.
The ruling applies to handgun sales by licensed firearms dealers. Young adults are already allowed to purchase handguns from private parties. They also are allowed to buy rifles and shotguns from licensed dealers.
The Biden administration, which has called for tougher gun laws, will likely appeal the ruling. Democrat politicians have pressed for tighter gun controls amid a series of high-profile mass shootings this year.
Judge James Wynn, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, dissented from Tuesday’s majority decision, saying the court was invalidating “a modest and long-established effort to control gun violence.” He added, “The majority’s decision to grant the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than 50 years ago is not compelled by law.”
The case was filed in 2018 on behalf of plaintiffs Tanner Hirschfeld and Natalia Marshall, who were both then University of Virginia students. Hirschfeld, then 20, and Marshall, 18, had both tried unsuccessfully to purchase handguns from licensed dealers. Marshall reportedly wanted a gun to protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend.
US Representative Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) praised the appellate court’s decision. “If you are old enough to vote and can sign up to die for your country, you should be able to buy a handgun,” he said, adding “18-, 19- and 20-year-olds are not to be denied constitutionally protected rights.”
If you are old enough to vote and can sign up to die for your country, you should be able to buy a handgun.Court affirms what I said when I introduced the SAFER Voter Act:18, 19, & 20 year olds are not to be denied constitutionally protected rights.https://t.co/C9zqZZXqVX
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