By: José Niño
On May 10, 2023, Federal District Court Judge Robert Payne ruled that the federal ban on handguns being transferred to gun owners below the age of 21 by federal firearms licensees (FFLs) is unconstitutional.
The case in question, Fraser v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), was originally brought by four Virginia residents between the ages of 18 and 20 who attempted to buy handguns from a gun store. John “Corey” Fraser went to a local gun dealer in May 2022 and attempted to purchase a Glock 19x.
Due to how federal law bans the transfer of a handgun to an individual under the age of 21 via an FFL, Fraser could not complete his purchase as evidenced by how the Virginia State Police background check rejected his purchase. The other three individuals opted to not attempt to buy handguns because of Fraser’s rejected purchase. However, they claimed that they would go through with these purchase attempts if they could legally do so.
According to John Crump of AmmoLand, “Other than age, there are no disqualifying factors” for these individuals. Subsequently, the men filed a federal lawsuit against the ATF, asserting that the gun control law infringed on the Second Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
After a pre-trial conference was held in November 2022, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. The government responded by filing a motion to dismiss. In December 2022, the men responded by filing a motion for a summary judgment. The government argued that the men did not have standing due to how they could get a parent to make a straw purchase on their behalf. In doing so, the burden would be placed on the parent, and not all individuals who are 18 years old still have contact with their family. The judge rejected the state’s argument.
On top of that, the government attempted to argue that the individuals didn’t have standing due to how federal law doesn’t impede them from purchasing a handgun in a private sale. The judge alluded to a Fifth Circuit decision that threw out the government’s claim that if a plaintiff can obtain a firearm without going through an FFL, then that plaintiff does not have standing.
Furthermore, the judge mentioned how the Bruen decision scrapped the “means-end” test. “Bruen marks a sea-change in Second Amendment law, throwing many prior precedents into question,” the judge observed in the decision.
Payne called attention to how the court must only apply the original text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment that was established in 1791. The judge rejects the usage of laws from 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was first ratified. The judge noted that the Fourteenth Amendment did not alter the Second Amendment’s meaning, which makes using 1868 as a reference date irrelevant.
In this case, the government argued that there is no right to buy firearms. It also contended that there is no right to purchase a handgun from a given source. The judge took exception with the state’s argument and ruled that the right to purchase arms is also included in the right to “keep and bear arms.”
“Commonsense and logic tell us that, unless one is a maker of guns, the right to ‘keep’ /have a gun necessarily means that one must purchase it, steal it, be given it by another, or find one that another has lost. That, of course, includes a handgun which was the subject ‘arms’ in Heller. 554 U.S. at 628. Thus, given its ordinary, commonsense, and logical meaning the right to ‘keep arms’ (the right to ‘have’) of necessity includes the right, inter alia, to purchase arms. That then puts an end to the textual inquiry with the conclusion that the conduct at issue is protected by the plain text of the Second Amendment,” the decision stated.
“The Department of Justice finds that young adults are the most likely victims of violent crimes when compared to children and older adults. It stands to reason that adults 18-20 years old should have the ability to defend themselves with the same firearms as any other adult. In addition to the fact that they can serve in the military, get married, vote, and serve on juries, they should also have the constitutional right to defend themselves.” Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights, said.
Overall, this victory should be celebrated by gun owners. The courts are one way to safeguard gun rights in America. However, we can’t exclusively rely on them to restore the Second Amendment. There ultimately must be a multi-pronged strategy to recover lost ground that gun controllers have taken from us over the last few decades.
This will require activism in the courts, local governments, state governments, and the federal government.