Laws prohibiting gun sales to people under the age of 21 are unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th circuit ruled that 18- to 20-year-olds have Second Amendment rights to gun ownership, which are violated by minimum age requirements on purchases from federally licensed gun dealers.
“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, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Richardson was joined by Judge G. Steven Agee, a George W. Bush appointee.
The challenge was brought by Natalia Marshall and Tanner Hirschfeld, who were prohibited from purchasing firearms in Virginia due to their age.
Marshall, 19, had obtained a protective order against an abusive ex-boyfriend who had been arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm and controlled substances. Court documents also state that Marshall “grew up training with guns” and believes that a handgun “makes the most effective tool for her protection” due to its ease of carrying, training and use.
Hirschfeld was denied the opportunity to by a handgun when he was 20 but has since turned 21.
In his decision, Richardson noted that 18-year-olds were “required at the time of the Founding to serve in the militia and furnish their own weapons.”
“Militia laws are helpful because they provide a baseline for determining the relevant political community that enjoyed Second Amendment rights,” he wrote. “They support the affirmative conclusion that 18-year-olds are protected by the Second Amendment. But even if history were less clear, 18-year-olds would not necessarily be excluded from the Second Amendment’s protections.”
They also expressed concerns that the restrictions drive people to unlicensed dealers who are not subject to perform background checks.
Judge James A. Wynn Jr., who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, dissented from the majority, saying it was “simply surreal” to suggest the laws relegate the Second Amendment to second-class status.
“The Second Amendment is exceptional not because it is uniquely oppressed or imperiled, but rather because it is singularly capable of causing harm,” Wynn wrote.
Wynn also scolded the other members of the panel for going against the will of Congress, which put the restrictions in place.
“The majority’s decision to grant the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than 50 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.