In a 65-page decision issued May 10, U.S. Senior District Judge Robert Payne sided with four plaintiffs who wanted to purchase guns. All four were older than 18, but younger than 21. Under current rules from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), those under 21 are not allowed to buy handguns from federally licensed firearm dealers.
The case indicated that plaintiff John "Corey" Fraser attempted to buy a Glock 19X handgun from a licensed firearm dealer in May 2022. However, he was denied the purchase because of his age.
The magistrate at the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia applied the Supreme Court's framework in determining whether firearms rules pass constitutional muster in his May 10 ruling. The framework, which comes from the high court's decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen from June 2022, calls for the government to demonstrate that gun restrictions are consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation.
"Under the analytical framework established in Bruen, the government simply has not met its burden to support the finding that restrictions on the purchasing of firearms by 18-to-20-year-olds are part of our nation's history and tradition," Payne wrote.
The federal magistrate also noted that the other rights enshrined in the Constitution – including the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments – "vest before the age of 21."
He wrote: "The Second Amendment's protections apply to 18-to-20-year-olds. By adopting the Second Amendment, the people constrained both the hands of Congress and the courts to infringe upon this right by denying ordinary law-abiding citizens of this age the full enjoyment of the right to keep and bear arms unless the restriction is supported by the nation's history."
The latest court decision came in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision last summer, which invalidated New York's rules for obtaining a license to carry a concealed handgun outside the home.
CBS News reported that the Department of Justice can appeal the decision and ask for it to be put on hold while legal proceedings continue. The Biden administration did so, filing its appeal to the highest court of the land.
Gun control advocates decried Payne's May 10 ruling. "The federal law prohibiting federally-licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to individuals under the age of 21 is not just an essential tool for preventing gun violence, it is also entirely constitutional," said Janet Carter, senior director of issues and appeals for Everytown Law. The latter serves as the litigation arm for the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety.
"The [federal court's] ruling will undoubtedly put lives at risk. It must be reversed," she warned. To this end, she filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Biden administration's appeal against the ruling.
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