Gun ban for young adults would be wholly unconstitutional

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Should young adults, ages 18-20, be prohibited from purchasing firearms? Under current federal law, gun stores are prohibited from selling handguns to anyone under 21, and long guns to anyone under 18. Now, some people are calling for a ban on all firearms sales to any adult under 21. In early March, Florida raised the age for firearms purchases to 21. Similar bills have been introduced in California and other states.

Additionally, some firearm retailers — including Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, L.L. Bean, and Kroger — have begun refusing service to all customers under 21. The refusal has subjected the companies to lawsuits in states that have civil rights laws against age discrimination.

{mosads}Besides violating the laws of some states and cities, firearms bans for young adults also violate the Constitution. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court reiterated that “[c]onstitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them.” When the Second Amendment was adopted, there were no firearms restrictions on 18-to-20-year-olds, and they were included in every militia across the country.


In fact, 18-to-20-year-olds had been included in over one hundred militia acts leading up to the Second Amendment’s ratification — dating back to 1631 Massachusetts — and were apparently excluded in none. The federal Militia Act of 1792 likewise included 18-to-20-year-olds.

All nine Justices in Heller agreed that individuals in the militia were protected by the Second Amendment. (The Justices disagreed about whether non-militia persons were also protected). All nine Justices also recognized that militiamen had to supply their own arms. Indeed, 18-to-20-year-olds males in the colonial and founding eras were required to own firearms.

The Militia Act of 1792 included such a requirement. Enacted a few months after the Second Amendment’s ratification, it presumably reflected the original understanding of the right. According to the original meaning of the Second Amendment, the government can require, but not prohibit, firearm ownership among young adults.

Of course it is true that in different legal contexts, such as voting, early American laws often set an age limit of 21. That is one reason why the 18-year-old vote required a constitutional amendment, which was adopted in 1971. In contrast, the Second Amendment right to arms included young adults right from the start.

Males aged 18-20 have a relatively higher violent crime rate than most older age groups. This might be a rationale for special licensing procedures, but not for a ban on the peaceable and law-abiding. Moreover, a ban on 18-to-20-year-old-women makes no sense, since that group is much less violent than the average adult.

Singling out any group for a civil rights ban because of the misbehavior of a tiny minority of the group is collective punishment, and is unjust. All social science data show that males are much more violent than females. That does not justify a gun ban for all males. If statistics show that members of certain races, ethnicities, or religions are relatively more violent, statistically, that does not justify prohibition for the very large non-violent majorities of those groups.

We know that suicide rates are highest for males over 70. This fact does not justify gun prohibition for everyone in that group.

Besides, the Founders were aware of the tendencies of some young adults. As the Encyclopedia of Police Science explains, “The relationship between aging and criminal activity has been noted since the beginnings of criminology . . . This age-crime relationship is remarkably similar across historical periods, geographic locations, and crime types.” Knowing the social facts, the Founders recognized that 18 to 20-year-olds have the fundamental right to keep and bear arms.

Because, as Heller explained, “the inherent right of self-defense [is] central to the Second Amendment right,” the more relevant consideration is that young adults are victimized by violent criminals at the highest rate of any adults. Women ages 18-to-24 are more than three times as likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than older women.

So when the government bans guns for young adults, it is ensuring that the groups that are the people who are already the most-attacked will be stripped of the means to resist violent attacks. This increases the safety of a criminal who is contemplating breaking into the home of a 20 year woman to brutalize her, and it terminates her safety.

Perversely, bans on young adults means that those who volunteer to risk their lives defending America with automatic weapons are prohibited from defending themselves with far less lethal firearms.

From the perspective of gun prohibition, one of the benefits of bans for young adults is to prevent them from acquiring rifles or shotguns for hunting or target sports. In the long run, this will reduce the number of participants in those sports, and thus shrink the base of voters who may be active in opposing further bans.

Some young adults 18 to 20 are married with children. These families deserve to protect themselves as much as any family does. If these adults are not mature enough to be trusted with firearms, then logic would suggest that they are not mature enough to marry in the first place.

For that matter, perhaps they are not mature enough to vote If they cannot be trusted with a squirrel rifle, how can they be trusted to elect leaders who wield nuclear weapons?

Finally, it is disingenuous to prosecute 18-to-20-year-olds as adults for firearms offenses or other crimes, while simultaneously denying them the right to own firearms because they supposedly are incapable of adult responsibility.

David Kopel (@DaveKopel) is research director at the Independence Institute (@I2idotorg), a free market think tank in Denver. Joseph Greenlee is a fellow at the Millennial Policy Center (@MilPolicyCtr) in Denver.

Tags David Kopel District of Columbia v. Heller Gun politics in the United States Joseph Greenlee

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