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Judge finds Minnesota age limit on gun carry permits unconstitutional

The Biden-appointed federal judge made it clear she was holding her nose while ruling under the Supreme Court's new framework for evaluating gun laws.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — A Minnesota federal judge has found the state’s requirement that permit-to-carry applicants for handguns be 21 or older unconstitutional, citing a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision which struck down a stringent permitting process in New York. 

U.S. District Judge Katherine Menendez, who was appointed by President Joe Biden in 2021 after a five-year tenure as a magistrate judge in the same court, granted partial summary judgment Friday to a group of three 18-to-20-year-olds who filed suit to overturn Minnesota’s 21-or-older rule for carry permits earlier that year. Joined by a number of gun rights organizations, the trio argued that Minnesota’s permitting requirements themselves, along with the age requirement, deprived them of their Second Amendment rights to carry handguns. 

Menendez agreed as to the age requirement, though she left the more general permitting process in place.

“The Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen compels the conclusion that Minnesota’s permitting age restriction is unconstitutional, and plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” she wrote in the order’s brief introduction.

The judge expressed a certain degree of reluctance to ignore the reasoning behind the state’s enforcement of the rule, including expert reports supporting its efficacy in addressing violence among young adults and research about brain development in the late teens and early twenties.

“If the Court were permitted to consider the value of these goals and how well Minnesota’s age requirement fits the ends to be achieved, the outcome here would likely be different,” she wrote. “But whatever the evidence may reveal about the wisdom behind enacting a 21-year-old requirement for publicly carrying a handgun, such analysis belongs to a regime of means-end scrutiny scuttled by Bruen.” 

The post-Bruen framework Menendez employed instead required state Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington and sheriffs in the three individual plaintiffs’ counties of residence to justify the 2003 21-and-older rule as not infringing on conduct explicitly permitted by the text of the Second Amendment or as consistent with the United States’ “history and tradition” of firearms regulation. 

In her textual analysis, Menendez found that the amendment was best read to include all adults – including those 18 to 20 – under the banner of “the people” in the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” 

“Neither the Second Amendment’s text nor other provisions within the Bill of Rights include an age limit,” Menendez wrote. “However, the Founders placed age requirements elsewhere in the Constitution, including for eligibility to be a House Member, Senator or the President.” That, and the use of the phrase “the people” elsewhere in the Bill of Rights supported her “all-adults” interpretation. 

The judge shared “reservations” about the historical portion of the test, noting that “judges are not historians. The process of consulting historical sources to divine the intent for ratifying constitutional amendments is fraught with potential for error and confirmation bias.” Nevertheless, she found, the analogues Harrington pointed to in the form of early 19th-century college campus firearm restrictions and municipal ordinances did not cut mustard. 

Minnesota requires permits to purchase and to carry handguns, concealed or otherwise. As of March 2020, over 301,000 of the state’s 5.7 million residents held permits to carry, and 2020 and 2021 broke records in the state for numbers of permits issued with 96,554 and 106,488 permits, respectively, according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

Gun violence prevention advocacy nonprofit Protect Minnesota was among several groups admitted as amicus curiae in the case. The organization’s interim executive director, Maggiy Emery, lamented the decision in an interview Friday afternoon. 

“The general feeling is that this was a bad decision, and that it’s going to make Minnesota a more dangerous place,” Emery said of her organization’s take on the ruling. 

She stressed the point that a majority of gun violence occurs between young people, and pointed to ongoing struggles with violence in the Twin Cities metro as a reason for stricter policy on gun ownership.

“We’re hearing so much in the news about carjackings, about violent crime, even about school shootings, and this is a ruling that makes all of those occurrences more likely to happen,” Emery said. “This is a pro-carjacking, pro-school shooting ruling.” 

On the other side of the aisle, Minnesota Gun Owners’ Caucus Chair Bryan Strawser said that while he was keenly aware of Menendez’s misgivings, he felt she had correctly applied the standard set by Bruen.

“We’re pretty pleased with the judge’s take on the issue. It’s been our contention from the beginning that adults, 18 and older, have the full enjoyment of their constitutional rights under the Second Amendment,” he said. 

He noted that similar post-Bruen rulings have already been seen in Texas, Tennessee and Georgia, and expressed the hope that Minnesota legislators would heed Menendez’s ruling.

“In terms of the debate that’s happening in the Legislature right now about gun control laws, this should be a warning to legislators that the laws that they craft need to comply with the Second Amendment,” he said. 

Categories:Civil Rights, Government, Law, Regional

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