July 13, 2021
By Mark Chesnut
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Tuesday ruled that 18- to 20-year-olds have the same Second Amendment right to purchase a handgun as older Americans do.
The case, Hirschfeld v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, spawned from a 19-year-old woman from Virginia, Natalia Marshall, who had obtained a protective order against her abusive ex-boyfriend, who was released from custody on bond but never showed up in court to face charges of illegal possession of a firearm and substance charges. Because she was 18 at the time when she tried to purchase the handgun, she was stopped by the federal law preventing those under 21 from purchasing a handgun from a licensed dealer.
The other plaintiff, also from Virginia, is Tanner Hirschfeld. U.S. District Glen Conrad had dismissed their case last year, but plaintiff’s appealed, and the case was recently heard by the Fourth Circuit Court’s three-judge panel.
Anti-gun groups like the Brady Campaign, Giffords Law Center and Bloomberg-funded Everytown for Gun Safety, joined in defending Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in the courtroom. But in the end after carefully studying the law, the judges found it to be blatantly unconstitutional.
“We hold that the challenged federal laws and regulations are unconstitutional under the Second Amendment,” Judge Julius Richardson wrote in the majority opinion. “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.”
According to Judge Richardson, the important question was when Americans can begin enjoying their constitutional rights. And the court majority wasn’t happy with the idea that the answer is at 21 years of age.
“When do constitutional rights vest?” Richardson wrote. “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. Our nation’s most cherished constitutional rights vest no later than 18. And the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms is now different.”
In his dissent, Judge James A. Wynn Jr. launched a full-scale assault on the sanctity of the Second Amendment.
“No, the Second Amendment is exceptional not because it is uniquely oppressed or imperiled, but rather because it is singularly capable of causing harm,” Wynn wrote. “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.”
Of course, the Second Amendment is no more capable of causing harm than any of the other rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Judge Wynn seems to be another one of those confused Americans who thinks guns cause crime, not criminals who misuse firearms.
The federal government is expected to appeal the decision to the full court.
For more information on this issue, please read If Newly Proposed Gun-Control Policies Were Law in 1945.
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for the past 20 years.