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Fed court rules banning handgun purchases for people under 21 is unconstitutional

Man shooting a pistol at the range. (Max Pixel/Free Use)
July 13, 2021

A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that federal regulations limiting the sale of handguns to individuals 21 and older violate Second Amendment rights.

A divided panel of three judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the restrictions to be unconstitutional. Judge Julius N. Richardson, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote in the majority opinion.

“When do constitutional rights vest? At 18 or 21? 16 or 25? Why not 13 or 33? 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,” Richardson wrote. “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.”

Richardson went on to note that 18-year-olds “were required at the time of the Founding to serve in the militia and furnish their own weapons.” He asked whether the government has displayed good reason to justify infringing on those rights now.

“To justify this restriction, Congress used disproportionate crime rates to craft overinclusive laws that restrict the rights of overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens. And in doing so, Congress focused on purchases from licensed dealers without establishing those dealers as the source of the guns 18- to 20-year-olds use to commit crimes,” he stated. “So, we hold that the challenged federal laws and regulations are unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.”

“Despite the weighty interest in reducing crime and violence, we refuse to relegate either the Second Amendment or 18- to 20-year-olds to a second-class status,” he concluded.

The lone dissenting judge, former President Barack Obama appointee James A. Wynn, accused the panel of handing “the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than fifty years ago.”

“Today, my good colleagues in the majority break new ground by invalidating a modest and long-established effort to control gun violence,” Wynn asserted. “The majority holds that Congress may not enact a law making 21 the minimum age to purchase handguns from federally licensed gun dealers. But the majority’s decision to grant the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than fifty years ago is not compelled by law. Nor is it consistent with the proper role of the federal judiciary in our democratic system.”

The decision is another blow to President Joe Biden and fellow democrats’ push for stricter gun laws. Last week, NY Gov. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for gun violence, marking the first of its kind ever enacted in the United States, the governor’s office said.