By Jack Phillips
A federal judge in Virginia ruled that 18-to-20-year-old residents cannot be barred from purchasing handguns, arguing that such regulations aren’t in accordance with American traditions and history.
“Because the statutes and regulations in question are not consistent with our Nation’s history and tradition, they, therefore, cannot stand,” U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne wrote (pdf), concluding that the laws barring.
The ruling came in response to a case brought by 20-year-old Virginian, John Corey Fraser, who tried to purchase a handgun in May 2022 before he was denied the sale due to a federal ban on firearms dealers selling handguns to people under the age of 21. Fraser challenged the 1968 Gun Control Act and a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) rule that makes the stipulation.
“If the Court were to exclude 18-to-21-year-olds from the Second Amendment’s protection, it would impose limitations on the Second Amendment that do not exist with other constitutional guarantees,” the judge wrote. “It is firmly established that the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eight, and Fourteenth Amendments vest before the age of 21.”
By that rationale, the “Second Amendment’s protections apply to 18-to-20-year-olds,” Payne wrote. “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. That is what Bruen tells us.”
The judge was referring to a 2022 Supreme Court decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, that ruled a New York state law regarding concealed carry weapons was unconstitutional. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority opinion, noted at the time that the order does not expand who can obtain and possess a firearm, adding that federal law generally bars people under the age of 21 from purchasing a handgun.
“No federal appellate court, much less the Supreme Court, has squarely determined that the Second Amendment’s rights vest at age 21” Payne also wrote, concluding that “to date, three circuits, the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh, have looked at this question head-on and have declined to answer it.”
Payne, an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, further wrote that Alito did not carry out a “historical analysis” of whether individuals under the age of 21 should be able to buy a handgun. Alito’s “observation is in a concurrence and is a cursory comment at that,” he wrote, adding that “the Court notes it but gives it no analytical weight.”
He added that under the Bruen decision, the federal government has not “met its burden” in arguing that 18-to-20-year-olds are part of U.S. “history and tradition,” noting that founding-era militia laws are evidence that individuals in that age group could purchase firearms. Lawyers for the ATF and Department of Justice, meanwhile, only pointed to laws that came about decades after the founding of the nation, the judge also wrote.
The ATF and DOJ, in opposing Fraser’s lawsuit, claimed that he is asking the court to essentially create a new law with his ruling by allowing those under the age of 21 to purchase a handgun, arguing that it’s out of the court’s jurisdiction to do so.
“Plaintiffs would have this Court make new law by recognizing an unrestricted right by 18- to 20-year-olds to purchase handguns without parental knowledge from federal firearms licencees,” the ATF’s lawyers wrote last year (pdf). “To support this alleged right, Plaintiffs primarily rely upon the 1792 Militia Act and historical research that shows that, during the founding era, 18-year-olds were sometimes permitted to serve in some state militias. According to Plaintiffs, this is enough to demonstrate that all rights secured by the Second Amendment necessarily reach 18-year-olds.”
Further, the government argued, “the overwhelming majority of states have adopted some restriction on the possession and/or purchase of firearms to individuals under the age of 21 at some point in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”
Attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit said they expected the DOJ to appeal Payne’s decision and request an injunction, which could prevent his ruling from going into effect immediately while higher courts look into the matter.
William T. Clark, an attorney with the pro-gun-control Giffords Law Center, told the Washington Post that teenagers aren’t mentally capable of making rational decisions around the purchasing of firearms.
“It’s a significant decision—we disagree with the outcome,” Clark said, adding that “there is compelling scientific evidence showing that teenagers are more impulsive and face unique elevated dangers from firearms.”
Janet Carter, with gun control group Everytown Law, concluded with Clark’s claims, telling the paper that individuals in that age group commit disproportionately more gun homicides than adults aged 21 or older. Carter, however, did not say how many obtained those guns illegally.
“Research shows us that 18- to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at triple the rate of adults 21 years and older,” Carter said, adding that 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.”
The Epoch Times has contacted the ATF for comment. A spokesperson for the agency told the Post that it cannot comment on litigation.