May 12, 2023
Lawful Americans aged 18 through 20 years old, who have been prohibited from buying handguns for decades, received some welcome relief earlier this week. On Wednesday, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the longtime ban forbidding citizens under 21 from purchasing handguns is “unconstitutional,” and heavily quoted from last year’s Bruen decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to explain his reasoning. U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne was nominated to the bench back in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush. On Wednesday, that appointment paid off for young Americans.
“Because the statutes and regulations in question are not consistent with our Nation’s history and tradition, they, therefore, cannot stand,” Judge Payne wrote in his opinion. The case stems from a 20-year-old who attempted to buy a Glock pistol last spring but was refused. The plaintiff and his attorney challenged the constitutionality of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and subsequent ATF regulations that limit sales to those over 21.
“The government’s argument is predicated on a limited, and erroneous, reading of the fundamental right protected by the Second Amendment,” the opinion further stated. “… the Second Amendment protects the right to purchase, not just possess, a firearm. So even though an 18-to-20-year-old can possess a gun given by a parent, the constitutional right of the 18-to-20-year-old would still be implicated by the regulations.”
Judge Payne also addressed the issue of the age of “vesting” for other constitutional rights.
“If the court were to exclude 18-to-21-year-olds from the Second Amendment’s protection, it would impose limitations on the Second Amendment that do not exist with other constitutional guarantees,” the opinion stated. “It is firmly established that the rights enshrined in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments vest before the age of 21.”
In the end, the court opinion concluded that the under-21 law doesn’t meet even one of the standards set by the Bruen decision.
“Under the analytical framework established in Bruen, the government simply has not met its burden to support the finding that restrictions on the purchasing of firearms by 18-to-20-year-olds is part of our Nation’s history and traditions,” the opinion stated. “Founding-era militia laws provide circumstantial evidence that 18-to-20-year-olds could purchase, own and use arms.”
Note that Americans under 21 can’t run out and purchase a handgun just yet, as the ruling will take effect when the judge issues his final order in the next few weeks. Young Americans in states that have state laws prohibiting young adults from purchasing handguns will not be affected by the ruling.
About the Author
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 nearly 25 years.
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