A federal judge in Virginia ruled Wednesday that a U.S. government ban on handgun sales by federally licensed dealers to adults ages 18 to 20 violates the Second Amendment.
It’s the latest court ruling to toss out gun control measures by using the new historical test outlined in a watershed Supreme Court decision last year.
U.S. District Judge Robert Payne came down on the side of four young men who sued over the ban, writing in a 71-page opinion that “the statutes and regulations in question are not consistent with our Nation’s history and tradition” and therefore “cannot stand.”
His phrasing directly echoed the Supreme Court’s 2022 majority opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, which struck down a century-old New York gun control law. In Bruen, conservative justices declared that the government has to prove a gun control law “is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
Payne, picked by President George H.W. Bush, wrote that 18-to-20-year-olds are part of “the political community” and protected by the right to bear arms as laid out in the Constitution. He cited, among other things, founding-era militia laws and an 18th-century tome entitled “Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.”
The government failed to show any evidence supporting “age-based restrictions on the purchase or sale of firearms from the colonial era, Founding, or Early Republic,” Payne said.
Responding to the argument that teenagers’ brain development makes them too irresponsible to own handguns, Payne wrote: “Since time immemorial, teenagers have been, well, teenagers. The ‘general societal problem’ of teenage impetuousness and rashness far proceeded the Founding.”
In other words, if the Founders did not see a reason to bar teens from guns, neither should we.
The Justice Department is likely to appeal, attorneys told The Washington Post.
Laws restricting gun sales have come into sharp focus this year as the U.S. continues to endure frequent mass shootings. At the federal level, adults 18 to 20 are not barred from purchasing a handgun through a private sale by an unlicensed seller, and shotguns and rifles can be sold to adults 18 and older.
State laws, however, vary — and are changing in the wake of Bruen.
John Corey Fraser was the only plaintiff to attempt to purchase a handgun — a Glock 19X — and be turned away. The other three men expressed interest in making purchases but did not attempt to do so given Fraser’s experience.
Their lawsuit, filed last year, represents Fraser’s second attempt to roll back age-based handgun restrictions through the courts. He tried unsuccessfully to join a similar suit in 2021.