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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Federal judge delivers win to young gun rights advocates

The injunction, which was immediately stayed pending appeal, would bar the government from enforcing laws prohibiting people between the ages of 18 and 21 from purchasing handguns.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — A Virginia-based federal judge issued an injunction prohibiting the federal government from enforcing a collection of laws that bars otherwise eligible 18 to 20-year-olds from purchasing handguns.

The judge, however, also immediately applied a stay on the order pending appeal. 

U.S. District Judge Robert Payne, a George H.W. Bush appointee, issued three orders in the case Wednesday. The first granted class certification to an estimated 10 million Americans aged 18 to 21, while the second granted declaratory judgment against the government and ordered an injunction of the gun laws, and the third stayed the injunction. 

"We're pleased with today's outcome, as it brings us one giant step closer to delivering justice on behalf of the millions of law-abiding American adults who have the same fundamental liberty to defend themselves as older citizens," attorney Elliot Harding of Harding Council representing the four original plaintiffs said in an e-mail. "We're optimistic that the higher courts will ultimately affirm this Court's decision to allow every qualified buyer an opportunity to avail themselves of the federal system — the only means for background checks — should they choose to purchase a handgun as their personal form of protection."

Other courts considering similar legislation have ruled in favor of the government, meaning the government is likely to appeal the lower court's orders to the Fourth Circuit. 

"The simple fact that our sister courts have split on this question makes clear that reasonable minds can and have disagreed,' the order granting the stay states. 

According to the orders, monetary relief rather than a change in how the law is enforced is an inadequate remedy for the certified class. 

"The only available remedy to stop the denial of the right is an order enjoying the enforcement of the legal regime that is affecting the deprivation," the injunction order states.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were over 31 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 24 in 2020. Payne disagreed with the government's argument that because the class will inevitably age out of the prohibited category, they are not suffering an irreparable injury as required for injunctive relief. 

"By infringing upon the Plaintiffs' constitutional rights, the challenged statutory and regulatory provisions inflicted an irreparable injury on plaintiffs," the injunctive relief order states.

The government contended that relief should only apply to the four original plaintiffs, but Payne instead found broader relief to be necessary.

"People between the age of 18 and 21 in the Eastern District of Virginia suffer an equal burden as people of the same age in the Southern District of New York, the Central District of California or any other district." the order granting declaratory judgment states. 

Should the injunction survive appeal, it will not apply to parts of Louisiana and West Virginia currently litigating parallel cases or any of the 19 other states that currently have laws prohibiting the sale of handguns to people under the age of 21. The injunction would also not change the status of those in the certified class who are already barred from purchasing a handgun due to criminal history, dishonorable discharges, mental conditions or drug addiction. 

Payne referenced the Supreme Court's 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, where the conservative majority found that New York violated the Second Amendment by restricting who gets to carry a concealed weapon in public. 

"In deciding to grant summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the court applied the standard newly articulated in Bruen," the stay order stated. 

Although the final orders granting declaratory judgment were issued Wednesday, Payne made his feelings on the matter known in May when he granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment

"Because the statutes and regulations in question are not consistent with our nation's history and traditions, they, therefore, cannot stand," the May opinion states. 

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Categories / Courts, Government, Law

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