A federal judge in Virginia has declared unconstitutional a set of laws and regulations that prohibit federally licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to 18-to-20-year-olds, finding that the measures violated the Second Amendment, according to the Washington Post.
“Because the statutes and regulations in question are not consistent with our Nation’s history and tradition, they, therefore, cannot stand,” U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne, who sits in Richmond, concluded in a 71-page opinion.
Gun-control advocates say the decision, if allowed to stand, would significantly increase gun access for a population that research shows is more impulsive and responsible for a disproportionate number of fatal shootings. But attorneys on both sides of the case said they expected the Justice Department to appeal and request a stay, which would prevent Payne’s ruling from taking effect while higher courts weigh the case.
Elliott M. Harding, the attorney who argued to nullify the laws and regulations, said people under 21 years old are, for the moment, not allowed to purchase handguns from licensed dealers because a final order had not been entered. The judge set a May 18 deadline for attorneys to submit recommendations “for future proceedings in this matter.”
Although 18-to-20-year-olds previously could buy handguns in private sales — or have a parent purchase a weapon for them — the decision issued in this case would dismantle a legal framework that for decades has prevented licensed dealers from selling handguns “to teenagers,” said William T. Clark, an attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which filed an amicus brief in the case calling for the laws at issue to be upheld.
“It’s a significant decision — we disagree with the outcome,” Clark said, adding that “there is compelling scientific evidence showing that teenagers are more impulsive and face unique elevated dangers from firearms.”
Attorneys in the case noted that 18-year-olds already were allowed to purchase some firearms such as shotguns and rifles — but not handguns sold by the nation’s nearly 53,000 licensed dealers, as tallied by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Payne, who was nominated to the bench by President George H.W. Bush, repeatedly cited the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, a ruling from the high court’s conservative majority that expanded the right to bear arms last year.
The plaintiff in the Virginia case, John Corey Fraser, was 20 years old when he attempted to buy a Glock 19x handgun from a federally licensed dealer in May 2022 and was turned away, according to the lawsuit he filed last year. He challenged the constitutionality of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and federal regulations from ATF that limit the sale of handguns to adults 21 years and older.
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