FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA — A federal law that prohibited licensed firearms dealers for more than 50 years from selling handguns to young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
In a 2-1 opinion, the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond overturned the lower court’s decision upholding the law.
Judge Julius Richardson, appointed by former President Donald Trump, wrote that the right to bear arms is a “constitutional right” that is vested in an 18-year-old.
Richardson wrote, “(W)e denies the Second Amendment or second-class status to 18- to 20-year-olds.”
It is not clear whether the decision will have any immediate effect. A separate appeals court, the 5th Circuit, ruled the same issue several years earlier in the opposite way.
Also, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, may seek an appeal before the full Fourth Circuit panel. The three-judge panel that ruled Tuesday had a 2-1 majority of GOP-appointed judges, but a narrow majority of Democratic-appointed judges in the 4th Circuit overall.
The ATF sent questions to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a call Tuesday and two emails seeking comment.
Richardson, in his ruling, cites recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, specifically the 2008 Heller decision, which declared that the Second Amendment applies to individuals, not just those associated with militia service. On.
He also cites historical references from the time of the Founding Fathers, noting that 18-year-olds usually serve in the militia by age 18.
In a disagreement, Judge James Wynn, an appointed judge of former President Barack Obama, accused his aides of “breaking new ground by invalidating a modest and long-established effort to control gun violence.”
“But the majority’s decision to give victory to the gun lobby in a battle it lost on Capitol Hill more than fifty years ago is not compelled by law,” Wynn wrote.
Tuesday’s decision was prompted by a lawsuit by 19-year-old Natalia Marshall, a University of Virginia student who said she wanted a handgun as protection from an abusive ex-boyfriend.
A federal law enacted in 1968 prohibits federally licensed dealers from selling handguns to persons under the age of 21. But people 18 and older are still allowed under federal law to purchase a handgun from a private party. They are also allowed to purchase long guns from a dealer.