Laws preventing firearms dealers from selling handguns to young adults under age 21 are unconstitutional, a federal appeals court said Tuesday in a ruling that could have implications for efforts to restrict such sales nationally.
In a divided decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said the existing minimum age requirement for purchases from federally licensed gun dealers restricts the rights of law-abiding citizens and draws an arbitrary, unjustified line.
“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,” wrote Judge Julius N. Richardson.
The decision, which probably will be appealed to the full court, finds that 18-year-olds possess a Second Amendment right to gun ownership and notes that they were “required at the time of the Founding to serve in the militia and furnish their own weapons,” wrote Richardson, a nominee of President Donald Trump, who was joined by Judge G. Steven Agee, a nominee of President George W. Bush.
The two expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of age restrictions, saying the requirement incentivizes young adults to obtain guns in less-regulated ways from unlicensed dealers and without background checks.
The ruling drew a sharp dissent from Judge James A. Wynn Jr. Courts, he said, should defer to lawmakers, who demonstrated a sufficient interest in promoting public safety when they passed the age restrictions in 1968.
“The majority’s decision to grant the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than fifty years ago is not compelled by law. Nor is it consistent with the proper role of the federal judiciary in our democratic system,” Wynn wrote.