The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that federal regulations prohibiting gun sales to those over the age of 18 but under the age of 21 violate neither the Second Amendment, which protects “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” nor the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.
The background to the Oct. 25 decision in National Rifle Association, et al. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, et al. is as follows: The NRA and several individuals who were between the ages of 18 and 21 filed a complaint in a Northern District of Texas court, alleging that 18 U.S.C. §§922(b)(1) and (c)(1) violated the Second Amendment and the equal protection clause. The district court rejected those claims, as did the 5th Circuit panel.
Regarding the Second Amendment claim, the 5th Circuit concluded, “Modern restrictions on the ability of persons under 21 to purchase handguns — and the ability of persons under 18 to possess handguns — seem, to us, to be firmly historically rooted,” wrote Judge Ed Prado in a decision joined by Judge Carolyn Dineen King and Judge Catherina Haynes. “We ultimately conclude that the challenged federal laws pass constitutional muster even if they implicate the Second Amendment guarantee.”
The court also rejected the equal protection argument, noting: “Unlike race or gender-based classifications, which require ‘tighter fit between discriminatory means and the legitimate means and the legitimate ends they serve,’ the government may ‘discriminate on the basis of age without offending’ the constitutional guarantee of equal protection ‘if the age classification in question is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.’ ”
David Thompson, a partner in Cooper and Kirk in Washington, D.C., represents the NRA and the individual plaintiffs in the case. He’s disappointed in the court’s ruling, which he believes is inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down a D.C. rule prohibiting residents from owning a handgun inside the district.
“In Heller the Supreme Court was crystal clear that the sole touchstone of the Second Amendment are the history and text of the amendment, and here the history is crystal clear: that 18, 19 and 20-year-olds at the time of the founding had the right to purchase fire arms. And the court relegated the mountain of historical evidence on that to a footnote,” Thompson says.
Anisha Dasgupta, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney who represented the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in the case, did not return a call for comment.
--- John Council