The US government’s prohibition on 18-to-20-year-olds buying handguns violates the Second Amendment and “cannot stand,” a federal judge in Virginia ruled.
The right to purchase a handgun falls under right to “keep and bear arms,” and young adults are among “the people” protected by the Second Amendment, Judge Robert E. Payne of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at Richmond said Wednesday.
Restricting the right of 18-to-20-year-olds to buy handguns, via an interlocking collection of federal law and regulations, isn’t supported by the nation’s history and tradition, Payne said. The government presented numerous militia laws from around the time of the nation’s founding, but they showed that 16 or 18 was the age of militia service then, he said.
The government did not present any evidence supporting “age-based restrictions on the purchase or sale of firearms from the colonial era, Founding, or Early Republic,” Payne said.
The earliest age restrictions for buying guns the government pointed to were laws passed in Alabama and Tennessee in 1856, Payne said. But none of the antebellum laws provided a definition of “minor” and “it is unclear to whom exactly they applied,” he said.
Prohibiting 18-to-20-year-olds from purchasing handguns also isn’t presumptively lawful under the US Supreme Court’s growing Second Amendment precedent, Payne said. Though the Supreme Court allows some restrictions on gun sellers, the prohibition here is a blanket prohibition on buyers, “rather than a mere condition or qualification,” he said.
In an appendix to his opinion, Payne noted that the “Founding generation” didn’t have a uniform meaning of the “the people,” which made it appropriate to adopt the “modern understanding” of the phrase.
The Brady and Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety filed amicus briefs in the case. Everytown for Gun Safety advocates for universal background checks and other gun control measures. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg, who serves as a member of Everytown for Gun Safety’s advisory board.
Elliott M. Harding of Charlottesville, Va., represented the plaintiffs. The Department of Justice represented the government.
The case is Fraser v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, 2023 BL 159607, E.D. Va., No. 3:22-CV-00410-REP, 5/10/23.
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