For more than half a century, the Gun Control Act has prohibited adults under the age of 21 from purchasing a handgun or ammunition from a federally licensed dealer.
That ban is now being reconsidered, however, after a federal appeals court panel determined that it is unconstitutional and declared adults over the age of 18 to be fully vested in the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms.
“Our nation’s most cherished constitutional rights”
According to the Washington Examiner, the underlying case focused on a 19-year-old woman in Virginia who had been prevented from purchasing a handgun.
She said the firearm would be used for her own protection after an abusive ex-boyfriend violated a protective order, failed to appear in court, and was arrested for unlawful possession of a gun.
Judge Julius Richardson of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recorded a 2-1 decision in favor of the plaintiff, ordering a district court ruling against her to be vacated, reversed, and remanded to be tried again. The Justice Department is expected to appeal.
The judge began by questioning the disparate ages at which constitutional rights are “vested,” determining: “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.”
In explaining how the court reached its conclusion, Richardson wrote that, at the time of the ratification of the Second Amendment, 18-year-old adults were almost universally considered to be part of the “militia” in all of the colonies, states, and territories.
“The weighty interest in reducing crime and violence”
When mustering for training or battle, he noted that these individuals were expected to show up equipped with their own guns and ammunition.
The judge also shredded the federal government’s argument that young adults are responsible for a “disproportionate” share of gun crimes. While adults between 18 and 20 might represent a slightly higher rate than other age groups, he said it was still a “minuscule” percentage compared to the vast majority of law-abiding results being denied a fundamental right.
“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.”
In conclusion, Richardson, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, raised the fact that adults under the age of 21 have served at the core of the U.S. military since its founding.
“The irony does not escape us that, under the government’s reasoning, the same 18- to 20-year old men and women we depend on to protect us in the armed forces and who have since our Founding been trusted with the most sophisticated weaponry should nonetheless be prevented from purchasing a handgun from a federally licensed dealer for their own protection at home,” Richardson reasoned.