NRA asks Supreme Court to lift ban on handgun sales to teens

The National Rifle Association is asking the Supreme Court to strike down decades-old regulations prohibiting the sales of handguns to those under the age of 21.

The powerful gun lobby is challenging a lower federal court’s October ruling that upheld the ban. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the current regulations are consistent with a long-held view that young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 “tend to be relatively immature and that denying them easy access to handguns would deter violent crime.”

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“As with felons and the mentally ill, categorically restricting the presumptive Second Amendment rights of 18-to-20-year-olds does not violate the central concern of the Second Amendment,” the court found.

The court noted it is legal for adults under the age of 21 to buy other types of guns, including rifles and shotguns. Further, parents or guardians can give their 18 to 20-year-olds handguns as a gift, and there are no laws barring either the possession or use of a handgun by adults younger than 21.

Still, the law’s prohibition of commercial sales of handguns to young adults amounts to a “categorical burden on the fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” the NRA argued in its petition to the high court, filed last week. 

The group argues that the regulations fly in the face of the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling that allows people to carry handguns for self-defense. 

“The Framers’ decision to enshrine the Second Amendment and this Court’s decisions recognizing that the right it secures is both individual and fundamental are decisions with consequences," the NRA wrote in the 224-page petition. “One obvious consequence is that individuals above the legal age of majority cannot be denied any meaningful ability to purchase the quintessential means for exercising the core individual right.”

Officials with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, listed as respondent to the petition, did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment. 

The court could decide as early as Sept. 30 whether or not to take up the case.

Noting that the justices have declined to hear other cases involving firearms, UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said it is unlikely that they would grant the NRA's request, particularly because the lower courts have consistently held up current law.

Even if they do consider the case, Winkler said he expects the justices would side with the circuit courts, considering that 18 to 21-year-olds have an especially higher than average rates of suicide, criminal behavior and drug and alcohol abuse.

"On the other hand, we allow 18-year-olds to bear arms in defense of the nation," he said. "Perhaps they should be allowed to defend themselves."

This story was published at 2:22 p.m. and updated at 3:30 with additional information.