An appellate court ruled this week that the 21-year minimum age requirement for handgun purchases violates their constitutional rights.
The story: In a divided decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, said that the minimum age restriction for buying handguns federally licensed gun dealers unfairly place 19-and 20-year olds separates from other adults.
The decision found that prohibiting firearm dealers to sell handguns to people under the age of 21 is unconstitutional and violates the Second Amendment.
The court opinion: Judge Julias Richardson says that 18-year-olds have the right to own a gun and were required to serve in the militia and take care of their weapons “at the time of the Founding.”
“When do constitutional rights vest? At 18 or 21? 16 or 25? Why not 13 or 33? In the law, a line must sometimes be drawn … Our nation’s most cherished constitutional rights vest no later than 18. And the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms is no different,” Richardson wrote in the opinion.
Richardson, who was joined by Judge G. Steven Agee, also expressed concerns that the age restriction might prompt young people to obtain guns in less regulated ways.
“We first find that 18-year-olds possess Second Amendment rights. They enjoy almost every other constitutional right, and they were required at the time of the Founding to serve in the militia and furnish their own weapons. We then ask, as our precedent requires, whether the government has met its burden to justify its infringement of those rights under the appropriate level of scrutiny,” he said.
“To justify this restriction, Congress used disproportionate crime rates to craft overinclusive laws that restrict the rights of overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens, Richardson continued. “And in doing so, Congress focused on purchases from licensed dealers without establishing those dealers as the source of the guns 18- to 20-year-olds use to commit crimes. So we hold that the challenged federal laws and regulations are unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.
“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.”
How we got here: The minimum age requirement for buying handguns was challenged by plaintiffs Natalia Marshall and Tanner Hirschfeld, who were unable to purchase firearms in Virginia because of their age.
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