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Federal Judge: Ban on Purchase of Handguns by 18-20-Year-Old Citizens is Unconstitutional

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Dean Weingarten
May 22, 2023

U.S.A.-(— On May 10th, 2023, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division, Judge Robert S. Payne published an opinion in the federal statutes and regulations which ban 18-20-Year-old citizens from purchasing handguns from federally licensed dealers is facially unconstitutional.

The decision was rendered in the case Fraser v ATF. The case is a lawsuit brought by four young citizens between the ages of 18 and 20. The case was initially filed on June 22, 2022, just as the famous Supreme Court opinion in Bruen was published. Motions to dismiss the case and for summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs were filed on November 30 and December 15, respectively.

Judge Payne denied the ATF motion to dismiss the case and granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs.

Judge Payne found several facts in his route to the opinion, which was heavily based on the direction given by Justice Thomas in the Bruen decision.

First, the ban on purchasing handguns from federally licensed dealers directly infringes on the rights protected by the Second Amendment. It is a “blanket age-based restriction.” The government did not contest this fact.

Judge Payne found the plaintiffs have standing, in part, because the Second Amendment, unlike other Amendments in the Bill of Rights contains the phrase “shall not be infringed”.

The Second Amendment clearly protects conduct that is necessary to exercise fundamental Second Amendment rights. Such conduct includes the right to obtain arms, including purchasing them. He held, while the Heller decision allowed for regulation of the commercial sale of arms, it did not say the purchase of arms fell outside the protections of the Second Amendment. Because the statutes in question denied the plaintiffs the right to purchase the arms, they were, in fact, harmed by the statutes.

Judge Payne found 18 to 20-year-old citizens were clearly part of the “people” considered in the “right of the people” to keep and bear arms. This was decided partly on the universal inclusion of 18-20-year-old men in the militia system, as well as the historical reality there were no restrictions on the purchase of arms by 18-20-year-olds during the time of the ratification of the Second Amendment.
A few restrictions on purchase happened in a couple of states later, but they were not general, and were further removed from ratification. Those restrictions were placed by state governments. They do not apply to this case because the restriction are federal restrictions. 18-20 year olds are part of the political community, in part, because they have the right to vote. While the right to vote is not absolutely tied to the right to arms, it is a strong indicator those who possess it are part of “the people” considered in the Bill of Rights.
Judge Payne notes the denial of a Constitutional right is an immediate harm in itself. The 71 pages of the opinion are densely worded and carefully argued.

18-20-year-old citizens never lost the right to own handguns. Permutations of federal law were used to infringe on their right to obtain handguns, putting them in the position of second-class citizens. Judge Payne followed Justice Thomas’s instructions on treating the Second Amendment with the same respect given to other Amendments in the Bill of Rights.

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