Court Battles

Appeals court rules 21-year minimum age for handgun purchases is unconstitutional

An appeals court ruled on Tuesday that a 21-year minimum age restriction for handgun purchases is unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit determined that regulations preventing firearm dealers from selling handguns to individuals younger than 21 years old violated the Second Amendment.

Judge Julius Richardson, who was appointed by former President Trump, wrote the majority opinion, contending that the protections provided by the Second Amendment should apply “whatever the age.”

“Looking through this historical lens to the text and structure of the Constitution reveals that 18- to 20-year-olds have Second Amendment rights. Virtually every other constitutional right applies whatever the age. And the Second Amendment is no different,” Richardson wrote in the ruling.

“The militia laws in force at the time of ratification uniformly required those 18 and older to join the militia and bring their own arms. While some historical restrictions existed, none support finding that 18-year-olds lack rights under the Second Amendment,” he added.

Richardson did note the “weighty interest in reducing crime and violence” but concluded that the court will not “relegate either the Second Amendment or 18- to 20-year-olds to a second-class status.”

The decision, however, will likely be appealed and sent to the full court, according to The Washington Post.

The ruling came after a suit was brought by Natalia Marshall and Tanner Hirschfeld, both of whom wanted to purchase firearms in Virginia but were not able to do so because of their ages, according to the Post.

Richardson and Judge G. Steven Agee, who joined the ruling, expressed doubt regarding the power of the age restrictions, the Post noted. The duo contended that the limitations actually motivate young adults to obtain guns through channels that are less regulated, such as unlicensed dealers, and without background checks.

Judge James Wynn Jr., however, dissented, arguing that courts should hand over the decision to lawmakers who showed interest bolstering public safety when they approved the age restrictions in 1968, the Post reported.

“The majority’s decision to grant the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than fifty years ago is not compelled by law. Nor is it consistent with the proper role of the federal judiciary in our democratic system,” Wynn wrote.

He also said the majority opinion’s concern that the restrictions could relegate the Second Amendment or individuals under 21 years old to a second-class status was “simply surreal.”

“Indeed, in a country that boasts a Congress, bench, bar, academy, and electorate that are all attentive to the prerogatives of gun owners, where many may conceal their weapons, carry them openly, or “stand their ground,” and where civilian gun ownership rates are second to none, the majority’s second-class status concern is simply surreal,” he wrote.

“No, the Second Amendment is exceptional not because it is uniquely oppressed or imperiled, but rather because it is singularly capable of causing harm,” he continued.

Attorney Elliott Harding, who represented Marshall and Hirschfeld, said he was pleased that the court “recognized that these young adults are not second-class citizens,” according to the Post. He said he thinks the decision will strengthen public safety by allowing young individuals to obtain guns with background checks through regulated channels.

Some gun control advocates, however, said the decision should be reversed, highlighting studies that show individuals younger than 21 years old are disproportionately connected to violent crime and have a higher risk of trying to take their own lives.

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