4th Circuit Strikes Down Law Barring Gun Sales to Adults Under 21 | Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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4th Circuit Strikes Down Law Barring Gun Sales to Adults Under 21

A divided three-judge panel on Tuesday found a federal ban on gun sales to 18-to-20-year-olds violates the Second Amendment.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — A longstanding federal law banning the sales of handguns to adults under the age of 21 is unconstitutional, a three-judge panel for the Fourth Circuit ruled on Tuesday.

“When do constitutional rights vest? At 18 or 21? 16 or 25? Why not 13 or 33?” Circuit Judge Julius Richardson asked at the beginning of the 88-page opinion

The Richmond-based appeals court’s 2-1 majority ruled on Tuesday that the 1968 law barring people under the age of 21 from purchasing handguns from licensed dealers is unconstitutional.

Answering his own question, Richardson said that 18-to-20-year-olds are protected under the Second Amendment. 

“In the law, a line must sometimes be drawn. But there must be a reason why constitutional rights cannot be enjoyed until a certain age,” wrote the Donald Trump appointee, adding “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 decision arises from a challenge by Natalia Marshall, a young woman who wanted to buy a handgun to protect herself from her abusive ex-boyfriend and to defend her rural home. 

She challenged the law after a firearms dealer refused to sell her a gun because she was 18. 

"Congress may not restrict the rights of an entire group of law-abiding adults because a minuscule portion of that group commits a disproportionate amount of gun violence," wrote Richardson, who said lawmakers used misleading data in order to pass the age restrictions in the 60s. 

Congress, he said, had focused its data on gun purchases from licensed dealers without establishing those dealers as the source of the guns adults under 21 use to commit crimes.

Richardson acknowledged a need to combat violence and crime in the U.S., but said the Fourth Circuit will not “relegate either the Second Amendment or 18-to-20-year-olds to a second-class status.”

He noted that, at the time of ratification of the Second Amendment, the federal government and every state required 18-year-old men to be part of the militia and provide their own arms.

 Judge G. Stephen Agee, a George W. Bush appointee, joined Richardson in the majority opinion.

The ruling applies only to states covered by the Fourth Circuit, including Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and North and South Carolina.

Judge James Wynn Jr., a Barack Obama appointee, disagreed with his colleagues’ ruling on Tuesday. 

“To be sure, the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms is an exceptional right, just not in the way the majority imagines,” he wrote in a lengthy dissenting opinion. 

He said the Second Amendment is different from other constitutional amendments "not because it is uniquely oppressed or imperiled, but rather because it is singularly capable of causing harm."

According to Wynn, the court should defer to lawmakers to make decisions like this. 

He condemned the ruling, stating that “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 Justice Department is expected to appeal the decision.

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Law

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