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 do not violate the Second Amendment, which protects “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” or the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.
According to the Oct. 25 opinion in National Rifle Association, et al. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, et al., the background in the case is as follows: The NRA and several individuals who were between the ages of 18 and 21 filed a complaint in the Northern District of Texas 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.”
Writing for the three-judge panel that included Judges Carolyn Dineen King and Catherina Haynes, Judge Ed Prado concluded “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 a ‘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., who represents the NRA and individual plaintiffs, says he’s disappointed in the court’s ruling. He believes it is inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), 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 firearms. 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 telephone call seeking comment.