Federal Judge Strikes Down Ban on Handgun Sales to Certain Americans

Jack Phillips
By Jack Phillips
December 4, 2023Judiciary
Federal Judge Strikes Down Ban on Handgun Sales to Certain Americans
An attendee holds a Glock Ges.m.b.H. GLOCK 19 Gen5 9mm pistol during the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on May 28, 2022. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

A federal judge overturned a ban on licensed firearms dealers selling pistols to adults under 21, saying the rule is unconstitutional.

Judge Thomas Kleeh, in his ruling on Dec. 1, said that based on his interpretation of the text of the First and Fourth Amendments, found that the Second Amendment does not exclude 18-to-20-year-olds, meaning the court “can discern no reason to read an implicit age restriction into the Second Amendment’s plain text either.”

“The Court concludes 18-to-20-year old law abiding citizens are part of ‘the people’ who the Second Amendment protects,” wrote Judge Kleeh, who is the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. “Plaintiffs themselves and the activity which federal law and regulation currently prevent them from undertaking are covered under the Second Amendment’s umbrella of constitutional freedoms.”

He added that the plaintiffs’ capacity to purchase handguns falls under the Second Amendment’s “unqualified command” and that “challenged statutes and regulations are not ‘consistent with the Nation’s historic tradition of firearm regulation'” and that the rule barring the plaintiffs from purchasing handguns was “facially unconstitutional and as applied to Plaintiffs.”

The judge’s ruling also drew heavily from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. vs. Bruen that required gun control laws to have a basis in historical tradition. The top court in its order struck down a New York law and determined it to be unconstitutional, affirming an individual’s right to carry a pistol in public under the Second Amendment.

His order stipulated that under the Bruen ruling, ‘‘To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest.”

The government, Judge Kleeh added, has to “demonstrate the challenged statutes are constitutionally permissible under Bruen.” Until the government proves otherwise, Americans have the right to obtain guns under the current standard set by the Supreme Court.

“Deprivation of a constitutional right is a deprivation and, necessarily, an injury in fact, no matter if an ‘easy’ and lawful work-around exists. Moreover, the Supreme Court of the United States previously rejected the Government’s reasoning in a different context,” he wrote.

The judge, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, wrote that there wasn’t a record of laws prohibiting 18-to-20-year-olds from purchasing firearms during the Founding Fathers’ time.

“Defendants have not presented any evidence of age-based restrictions on the purchase or sale of firearms from before or at the Founding or during the Early Republic,” he wrote. “Defendants have likewise failed to offer evidence of similar regulation between then and 1791 or in a relevant timeframe thereafter. For that reason alone, Defendants have failed to meet the burden imposed by Bruen.”

Judge Kleeh’s order means that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Attorney General Merrick Garland, and ATF Director Steven Dettelbach cannot enforce the ban on handgun purchases for 18-to-20-year-olds. The Department of Justice has not issued a public comment on the matter as of Monday.

Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, pistols can only be purchased by individuals 21 years of age or older and “licensees are bound by the minimum age requirements established by the GCA regardless of state or local law,” according to the ATF. Individuals under the age of 21 can still purchase rifles and shotguns from licensed dealers under the law.

In 2022, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System told firearms dealers that it is moving “towards the implementation of an enhanced background check process for persons between the ages of 18-20” and that “as a result, transactions on persons between the ages of 18-20 will initially be delayed.”

One of the groups that helped bring the lawsuit against the rule, the Second Amendment Foundation, hailed the judge’s ruling last week.

“The Biden Justice Department argued that people in this age group were not adults, which was patently ludicrous,” the group said in a statement. “The government simply could not defend the constitutionality of the handgun prohibition, and Judge Kleeh’s ruling makes that clear.”

Supreme Court Ruling

In last year’s Supreme Court ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”

That right is not a “second-class right,” Justice Thomas wrote. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”

And fellow Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the court had decided “nothing about who may lawfully possess a firearm or the requirements that must be met to buy a gun” and nothing “about the kinds of weapons that people may possess.”

The Supreme Court last issued a major gun decision in 2010. In that decision and a ruling from 2008, the justices established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defense. The question for the court this time was just about carrying a gun outside the home. Justice Thomas wrote in his opinion that “nothing in the Second Amendment’s text draws a home/public distinction with respect to the right to keep and bear arms.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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