A federal judge in Virginia has struck down a law prohibiting licensed federal firearms dealers from selling handguns to 18- to 20-year-olds, finding that it violates their Second Amendment rights and is unconstitutional.
In a 71-page ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Payne said that since adults under 21 have the right to vote, join the military and serve on a federal jury, there is no reason why federal law should restrict them from buying a firearm.
“If the Court were to exclude 18-to-20-year-olds from the Second Amendment’s protection, it would impose limitations on the Second Amendment that do not exist with other constitutional guarantees,” Payne wrote.
“Because the statutes and regulations in question are not consistent with our Nation’s history and tradition, they, therefore, cannot stand,” he wrote.
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His opinion relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, which said that courts must review the country’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation” to evaluate the constitutionality of a gun restriction. That landmark ruling has led to several successful challenges to longstanding gun control laws brought by gun owners and Second Amendment groups.
Since the Bruen decision, courts have declared unconstitutional laws including federal measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and defendants under felony indictment, as well as a ban on possessing guns with the serial number removed. A federal judge recently cited the high court decision in ruling against a Minnesota law prohibiting 18- to 20-year-olds from getting permits to carry handguns in public. A judge struck down a similar law last year on gun restrictions for young adults in Texas.
Payne, who cited the 2022 Supreme Court ruling repeatedly in his ruling, wrote that the government failed to present “any evidence of age-based restrictions on the purchase or sale of firearms from the colonial era, Founding or Early Republic.” The lack of similar regulations from those time periods indicates that the “Founders considered age-based regulations on the purchase of firearms to circumscribe the right to keep and bear arms confirmed by the Second Amendment,” he wrote.
This class action lawsuit was brought by John Corey Fraser, 20, and other plaintiffs who said the Gun Control Act of 1968 and subsequent regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were unconstitutional because they excluded all adults under 21 from “exercising the right to keep and bear arms.” Fraser, 20, had attempted to purchase a Glock 19x handgun from a licensed dealer but was turned away, according to the lawsuit.
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Elliott Harding, an attorney representing Fraser, was pleased with Payne’s decision and expressed confidence the ruling will be upheld on appeal.
“Even though it ensures that future buyers can now purchase these firearms in the federal system — one that includes background checks and other requirements — we expect the defendants will appeal,” Harding told the Associated Press.
Harding noted that 18- to 20-year-olds are currently allowed to buy handguns from private sellers, calling it a “loophole” that is “completely unregulated.”
“This allows them to go in and buy a registered firearm, direct from a manufacturer, but they’ll also go through background checks,” he said. “They have to go through the traditional steps in purchasing a firearm.”
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Everytown Law, a legal group that supports gun control and filed a brief supporting the ban on handgun sales to adults under 21, said the law is constitutional and an essential tool for preventing gun violence.
“Not only are guns the leading cause of death for U.S. kids and teens, but research shows us that 18- to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at triple the rate of adults 21 years and older,” said Janet Carter, Everytown Law’s senior director of issues and appeals.
“The Court’s ruling will undoubtedly put lives at risk,” Carter added, “It must be reversed.”
The Justice Department and ATF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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