Where plaintiffs challenged federal laws prohibiting them from purchasing handguns from federal firearm licensed dealers, or FFL, because they are over 18 but less than 21 years old, the laws were unconstitutional. Prohibitions on the rights of 18-to-20-year-olds to purchase handguns are not supported by our nation’s history and tradition.
Plaintiffs, who are over 18 but less than 21 years old, are prohibited from purchasing handguns from federal firearm licensed dealers, or FFL, solely because of their age. Plaintiffs are challenging the federal laws as violative of the Second Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pending before the court are defendant’s motion to dismiss and plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.
The government argues that plaintiffs do not have standing to bring this action because they failed to plead a sufficient injury in fact, in that they can legally receive and possess handguns as gifts from parents or guardians. It is beyond question that the deprivation of a right conferred by the Constitution is an injury in fact. So, if, as they allege, the plaintiffs have a right under the Second Amendment to buy handguns, and if the challenged laws and regulations infringe that right, they are injured.
The first step of the analytical framework from N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Associations, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2021), is to determine if the relevant conduct falls within the plain text of the Second Amendment. In this case, that question is a two-fold one: (1) Does the right to “keep and bear arm” include the right to purchase arms and (2) Are law abiding 18-to-20-year-olds part of the “the people” protected by the Second Amendment?
The court finds that, consistent with the text and logic of the Second Amendment, the right to purchase a gun falls within the Second Amendment’s plain text. Turning to the second question, no federal appellate court, much less the Supreme Court, has squarely determined that the Second Amendment’s rights vest at age 21. To date, the Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits have looked at this question head-on and have declined to answer it.
On the other hand, the Fourth Circuit previously held that 18-to-20-year-olds are part of “the people” protected by the Second Amendment. Although that decision was vacated as moot because the plaintiff turned 21 when the case was on appeal, and thus is neither binding nor of precedential effect, the analysis of the issue is sound and logically persuasive on the point. And, the analyses and the conclusions are the views compelled by the record here.
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. It is firmly established that the rights enshrined in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eight and Fourteenth Amendments vest before the age of 21. Like these other rights, 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.
History and tradition
Having determined that the conduct in question, the purchasing of handguns by individuals between the ages of 18-to- 20-years, is covered by the Second Amendment, the court finds that prohibitions on the rights of 18-to-20-year-olds to purchase handguns are not supported by our nation’s history and tradition. The militia laws in the record do not support a finding that prohibiting the purchase of handguns by individuals between the ages of 18 and 20 comports with our nation’s history and traditions. And the government has not presented any evidence of age-based restrictions on the purchase or sale of firearms from the colonial era, Founding or Early Republic.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court stated that its holding did not “cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions” including “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” The government claims that this exception applies to the regulations in question which, in its words, are “a narrow, commercial restriction on the sale of handguns by FFLs to individuals under the age of 21.” Assuming that the restriction is narrow, it is not properly classified as a condition or qualification on the commercial sale of arms.
As these motions are decided on Second Amendment grounds, there is no reason to conduct an equal protection analysis.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss denied. Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment granted.
Fraser v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Case No. 3:22-cv-410, May 10, 2023. EDVA at Richmond (Payne). VLW 023-3-254. 71 pp.