July 20, 2023
A lawsuit challenging Florida’s law banning rifle and shotgun purchases by adults 18 to 20 years of age is set to be heard by the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. On March 9, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court had upheld Florida’s under-21 gun purchase ban. But on July 16, the court vacated that decision and announced that it would take up the legal battle en banc, meaning the full court will soon hear arguments concerning the law.
The case, National Rifle Association v. Bondi, challenges the law that was hastily passed and then signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott following a tragic mass murder at a school in Parkland, Florida. The NRA filed the lawsuit shortly after the law was passed. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has opposed the law from the time it was first being discussed and filed an amicus brief supporting the most recent challenge to the law, according to Mark Oliva, NSSF managing director of public affairs.
“Florida’s law banning the sale of firearms for adults under the age of 21 is fundamentally flawed,” Oliva said in an exclusive interview with Firearms News. “Every American at the age of 18 is fully vested in all of their civil liberties, including their right granted to them by their Creator to keep and bear arms. That is not a right for Florida’s government to withhold.”
Oliva said that laws curtailing the other enumerated rights of 18- to 20-year-olds would almost certainly be considered unconstitutional. Yet for some reason courts often find Second Amendment rights not quite so important.
“Banning the rights of free speech, free exercise of religion or free assembly wouldn’t be tolerated yet this law relegated the Second Amendment to a second-class right,” he said. “That is Constitutionally unsound. Additionally, the answer to concerns that a minor’s criminal history prohibiting firearm possession would not be included in the background check was addressed in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This law was wrong from the start. It only disenfranchises law-abiding adults from exercising the full spectrum of their rights.”
From the time the law passed, NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action has consistently pointed out the fallacy of the law.
“There is no question that 18- to 20-year-olds are adults in the eyes of the law and the Constitution,” NRA-ILA wrote in an action alert after a federal judge first begrudgingly upheld the law in 2021. “To deny those younger adults their rights because of the actions of criminals is nothing less than political discrimination and it is inconsistent with the Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Since then, of course, the case for 18- to 20-year-olds to be able to purchase long guns has been further strengthened by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. That ruling set a new standard for deciding Second Amendment cases.
According to the new standard under Bruen, when determining the constitutionality of a firearms law, the courts now must first determine if “the Second Amendment’s plain text covers [the] individual’s conduct” the government hopes to restrict. If it does, “The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
If the government fails to meet this burden, then the challenged law cannot stand. The ban on 18- to 20-year-old adults likely runs afoul of both aspects of the standard. The date has not yet been set for oral arguments to begin in the case.
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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