Laws prohibiting handgun sales to people under 21 are unconstitutional, appeals court rules

Laws prohibiting handgun sales to people under 21 are unconstitutional, appeals court rules
Republican-appointed judges argued ‘virtually every other constitutional right applies whatever the age’

Age restrictions that prevent people under 21 years old from buying a handgun from a licensed dealer are unconstitutional, according to an appeals court ruling.

In a decision that could resonate nationally in future cases, a divided three-judge panel at the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals on 13 July argued that the Second Amendment doesn’t “necessarily extend full force” to children under 18, but that “‘the people’ protected by the Second Amendment includes at least” people age 18 and older.

“Virtually every other constitutional right applies whatever the age,” wrote Donald Trump-appointed Judge Julius Richardson in the court’s majority opinion. “And the Second Amendment is no different.”

The opinion – joined by George W Bush-appointed Judge G Steven Agee – also noted that 18-year-olds were “required at the time” of the constitution’s writing “to serve in the militia and furnish their own weapons.”

A dissenting opinion from Judge James Wynn Jr argued that the decision should be left with lawmakers and accused the majority of granting “the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than [50] years ago.”

The ruling is not “consistent with the proper role of the federal judiciary in our democratic system,” wrote Judge Wynn, who was appointed by Barack Obama.

“The Second Amendment is exceptional not because it is uniquely oppressed or imperiled, but rather because it is singularly capable of causing harm,” he wrote.

The appeals court’s decision – the latest indication of the growing right-wing dominance in the federal judiciary – sends the case back to a lower court and is likely to be appealed before it is potentially kicked up to the US Supreme Court, which has not heard a gun rights decision in more than a decade.

This fall, the nation’s high court is expected to hear a case involving a New York law that requires people obtain a licence to carry a concealed gun outside the home.

There is no federal minimum age for possessing rifles and shotguns, though federal law bars people under 18 from buying them from a licensed dealer, according to the Gun Control Act.

The court’s decision is “wrong on the history, wrong in the way it goes about its Second Amendment analysis and equally wrong for public safety at a time when we’re experiencing an epidemic with gun violence across the country,” Eric Tirschwell, managing director for Everytown Law, told The Washington Post.

“The last thing we need is for more guns to be in the hands of young people,” he said.


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