Virginia Student to Continue Fight Against Age Limit for Handguns

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – A University of Virginia student has pledged to appeal the dismissal of his challenge to a federal law that bars people under 21 from buying handguns.

A collection of firearms on display at the Colonial Shooting Academy in Richmond, Va., on July 8, 2019. (CNS Photo/Brad Kutner)

Tanner Hirschfeld, a fourth-year student at the university established by founding father Thomas Jefferson, said in an email he was disappointed when Senior U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad ruled last week that Hirschfeld’s Second Amendment rights weren’t violated by criminal statutes making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase a handgun.

“While the prospective buyers offer policy disagreements with Congress’s conclusions and reasoning, that’s not for the courts to decide,” Conrad wrote in an opinion published Friday, adding that “Congress had a rational basis for regulating adults over 21 different from adults under 21.”

But Hirschfeld, who was joined in the suit by 18-year-old Albemarle County resident Natalia Marshall, said the ruling was flawed.

“The law as written allows adults younger than 21 to own a handgun, but prevents them from buying one in the safest way, therefore encouraging straw purchases and unregulated sales without background checks,” he said in an email.

The Gun Control Act of 1968, which established the age limit, was passed in the wake of the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It was one of the largest expansions of gun control, with language banning “explosive devices” like bombs and grenades from personal ownership. Other sections limit the interstate transfer of firearms, and added a definition of the term “machine gun” while limiting its availability.

The National Rifle Association pushed back on its passage, but LBJ famously addressed the group’s efforts in a speech during the bill’s signing.

“The voices that blocked these safeguards were not the voices of an aroused nation,” he said at the time. “They were the voices of a powerful lobby, a gun lobby that has prevailed for the moment in an election year.”

Still, Hirschfeld, who is now over 21, hopes the appeal will roll back restrictions he believes violate a core part of the American experience.

“At age 18 I could’ve been called in the draft, but I couldn’t purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer to keep for self defense,” he said. “At the end of the day, the current law does not make anyone safer and only provides unnecessary infringements.”

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