Prohibiting 18-20 Year Olds From Purchasing Handguns Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Says

On Wednesday, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division laid out a monumental summary judgement ruling for the plaintiffs in Fraser et al. v. BATF. While the judge found that prohibiting 18-20-year-olds, who are not otherwise prohibited, from purchasing a handgun is unconstitutional, the status quo remains while the appeals process plays out and the court enters a final ruling on the case.

Fraser et al. V BATF—

Plaintiffs in the case argue against a prohibition in the Gun Control Act of 1968 that prohibits anyone under 21 from purchasing a handgun from a federal firearms dealer (FFL). One plaintiff called John Fraser attempted to purchase a Glock 19X handgun from a FFL and denied solely because he was not yet 21 years old. Fraser showed he had no criminal history and was a responsible adult American citizen who was not otherwise prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

In addition to suing the federal government for himself, Fraser also sues on the behalf of other similarly situated members of a defined class as:

“Natural persons and citizens of the United States of America who have attained the age of 18 but who are not yet twenty-one and who have not been convicted of a felony, who are not fugitives from justice, have not been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions, are not unlawful users of or addicted to any controlled substances, have not been adjudicated as mental defectives or committed to a mental institution, are not on parole or probation, are not under indictment or restraint.”

Judge Payne's Opinion—

In the 71-page opinion from Judge Payne, is illustrative of how, yet again, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in NYSR&PA V. Bruen turned gun control laws upside down. The Bruen decision affirmed that carrying a firearm outside the home is activity protected under the Second and Fourteen Amendments.

However, the real impact from Bruen was its clarification of how courts would analyze challenges to regulatory statutes dealing with the Second amendment. From Bruen:

“We reiterate that the standard for applying the Second Amendment is as follows: When the Second Amendment's plain text covers an individual's conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only then may a court conclude that the individual's conduct falls outside the Second Amendment's ‘unqualified command.'”

Judge Payne addresses this issue in his opinion, and I highly suggest reading it. Once you do, I think you'll quickly see how wide ranging this decision is, and why anti gunners lost it.

Glock handgun shooting

The government also argued that plaintiffs other than Fraser lacked standing in the case as they failed to plead an injury, in fact. The government argued that an 18-to-20-year-old, not otherwise prohibited, could have a parent or guardian purchase the gun for them, which is legal to do.

The plaintiffs correctly argued that a parent or guardian can purchase a gun for them, but they can also decide not to purchase the gun for them. The plaintiffs argue that the law violates their Second Amendment right because they can only exercise that right through the grace of a third-party, and so they have suffered an injury in fact.

What do “Keep” and Bear” mean?

Among other interesting arguments in the opinion is where Judge Payne addresses the following question: Does the Right to Keep Arms, Include the Right to Purchase Arms?

You can see where the government was going with this question. The Second Amendment only says Keep and Bear arms, not purchase. And since technically an 18-to-20-year-old could possess a handgun legally, prohibiting the purchase of one isn't a violation of the Second Amendment.

Plaintiffs answered this argument by going back to the plain text of the words and how they were commonly used at the time of the drafting of the Amendment. In Heller, the SCOTUS determined that ‘keep arms' is to ‘have weapons' and ‘bear arms' is simply the carrying of weapons. And that at its core, the Second Amendment guarantees the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.

“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 another has lost…Thus given its ordinary, commonsense, and logical meaning the right to “keep arms” (the right to “have”) of necessity includes the right, to purchase arms.”

Wrapping Up—

As I mentioned above, this ruling does not change current law, so if your 18-20, don't expect to go purchase a P365 handgun from your local FFL—especially if you live in a nightmare like California.

Please consider reading the entire opinion as I think we can better defend our position if we deeply understand the topic.

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below and check out the Concealed Carry Podcast for a wide range of topics centered on the concealed carry mindset and lifestyle.

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About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. MJ Maruster Defense.

3 Comments

  1. Chris on May 21, 2023 at 2:53 pm

    Great article! Very concise and flowing logic. Thanks.

  2. Joseph C. Moore [USN Ret.] on May 21, 2023 at 3:35 pm

    Joe Average under 21 is still likely lacking mature judgement with lethal weaponry. Even 20-30’s are still forming mature attitudes. So no, I expect the still teen to have a mature, lawful reference (in person) at the time of applying for purchase. Not prohibited, but character referenced before approved.

    • JohnD on May 21, 2023 at 9:03 pm

      If you’re old enough to join the military at age 18, you’re old enough to own and possess firearms.

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