Bloomberg Law
March 9, 2023, 4:40 PM

Florida Can Prohibit Gun Purchases by Those Under 21, Court Says

Bernie Pazanowski
Bernie Pazanowski

The Florida law that bans gun sales to people between 18 and 20 years old is constitutional, the Eleventh Circuit said Thursday.

“Tragically, under-21-year-old gunmen continue to intentionally target others—now, with disturbing regularity, in schools,” the court said. “But State governments have never been required to stand idly by and watch the carnage rage.”

The law is supported by the history and tradition of gun regulation in the US, the opinion by Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum said.

The law was adopted in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that was carried out by a 19-year-old gunman. Although the law prohibits anyone under 21 from buying a gun, they may still possess one.

The National Rifle Association challenged the law, saying it violates the Second Amendment.

The law is “consistent with our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said.

The court looked at the Reconstruction Era of history to decide whether the law is constitutional. It looked at that era because it’s when the 14th Amendment was adopted, which made the Second Amendment applicable to the states.

Applying the US Supreme Court’s most recent Second Amendment analysis, the court first assumed that the amendment applies to 18-to-20-year-olds when they buy guns. It then said that the Reconstruction Era regulations burdened law-abiding citizens’ right to be armed for self defense “to an even greater extent” than the Florida law.

At the time the 14th Amendment was adopted, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky prohibited 18-to-20-year-olds from buying and possessing guns, the Eleventh Circuit said. Looking at headlines from the era, the court noted that those laws were adopted for the same reason as the Florida law—to protect the public from young people with guns.

After the 14th Amendment was adopted, other states adopted regulations similar to those in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, the court said. It also noted that laws prohibiting the sale of guns to minors were virtually “unchallenged” for years.

Florida’s age restriction on buying guns therefore doesn’t violate the Second Amendment, the court said.

Judge Anne C. Conway, sitting by designation from the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida, joined the opinion.

Judge Charles R. Wilson concurred in the judgment, but noted that the case may be moot because the Florida legislature is considering a bill to reduce the age for buying a gun to 18.

Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP and Sukhia Law Group PLC represented the NRA. The Florida Attorney General’s Office represented the state.

The case is Nat’l Rifle Ass’n v. Bondi, 11th Cir., No. 21-12314, 3/9/23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Patrick L. Gregory at

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