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Judge Rules Banning 18-20-Year-Olds From Purchasing Firearms Is Unconstitutional

Judge says 18 was the age of majority for acquiring and possession firearms during the nation's founding period

A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that barring firearm sales to individuals aged 18-20 is unconstitutional.

The ruling is the latest in a string of decisions upholding Second Amendment rights using as a basis last year’s Supreme Court decision New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v Bruen, which held that gun laws must be consistent with the U.S.’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.

In a 71-page decision issued on May 10, Judge Robert Payne ruled in favor of four plaintiffs, stating that restrictions on firearm purchases to individuals aged 18-20 is not consistent with the nation’s history and tradition.

“Founding-era militia laws provide circumstantial evidence that 18-20-year-olds could purchase, own, and use arms,” Payne wrote. “These militia laws and the cases interpreting them further suppler the finding’s that 18 was the age of majority for acquiring and possession firearms in the founding period.”

He added, “There is no direct evidence of age-based firearms restrictions.”

Payne also explained that if the court were to exclude 18-21-year-olds from the second amendment’s protection, it would be imposing limitations that do not exist with other constitutional guarantees.

Pro-gun control advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety blasted the judge’s decision, calling for it to be overturned.

“Not only are guns the leading cause of death for U.S. kids and teens, but research shows us that 18- to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at triple the rate of adults 21 years and older,” Janet Carter, senior director of issues and appeals at Everytown Law, said in a statement. “The federal law prohibiting federally-licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to individuals under the age of 21 is not just an essential tool for preventing gun violence, it is also entirely constitutional.”

Carter added, “The Court’s ruling will undoubtedly put lives at risk. It must be reversed.”

John Fraser was one of the plaintiff’s on the lawsuit that made its way to Payne’s court. Fraser attempted to purchase a handgun at a federal firearms dealer last May, but was denied.

“We’re pleased the court ruled in favor of Mr. Fraser and the other named plaintiffs in such a well written and thorough decision,” Elliot M. Harding, Fraser’s attorney, said in an e-mail to the Washington Post. “Even though it ensures that future buyers can now purchase these firearms in the federal system, one that includes background checks and other requirements, we expect the defendants will appeal. Nevertheless, we remain optimistic that the decision will be affirmed in due course.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article referred to “individuals between the ages of 18-20,” which technically refers to 17-years-olds. The lede has been corrected to resolve this error. 

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