U.S. court upholds ban on handgun sales to people under 21

Thu Oct 25, 2012 2:00pm EDT

* 5th Circuit cites age, safety limits on gun ownership

* Court rejects NRA claims under Second, Fifth Amendments

* NRA says ruling inconsistent with Supreme Court decision

By Jonathan Stempel

Oct 25 (Reuters) - The United States may ban federally licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to people under age 21, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday, in a defeat for the National Rifle Association.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston rejected the NRA's argument that 18- to 20-year-olds had a right to buy the guns under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment.

A unanimous three-judge panel said Congress, in a law dating from 1968, adopted the sales ban to help curb violent crime. It also said that the nation's founders and 19th-century courts and commentators believed that disarming specific groups did not trample on the right to bear arms.

"Congress was focused on a particular problem: young persons under 21, who are immature and prone to violence, easily accessing handguns," mainly from licensed dealers, Judge Edward Prado wrote for the panel.

"The present ban appears consistent with a longstanding tradition of age- and safety-based restrictions on the ability to access arms," he added.

Thursday's decision upheld a September 2011 ruling by U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings in Lubbock, Texas.

The case had been brought a year earlier by the NRA, firearms dealers and individuals against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice.


The 5th Circuit said it was the first federal appeals court to address the ban since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 announced a broad Second Amendment right for individuals to keep and bear arms, in the case District of Columbia v. Heller.

"We are disappointed," said David Thompson, managing partner at Cooper & Kirk in Washington, who represents the NRA. "The ruling is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's opinion in Heller, and we are considering all of our appellate options."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In reaching its conclusion, the 5th Circuit also rejected an NRA request that it apply "strict scrutiny" in considering the sales ban.

It said a less rigorous review was appropriate because the law did not prevent 18- to 20-year-olds from using handguns for self-defense and other lawful purposes, and people subject to the ban would eventually surmount it by turning 21.

"The government has satisfied its burden of showing a reasonable means-ends fit between the challenged federal laws and an important government interest," Prado wrote.

Prado was appointed to the 5th Circuit by President George W. Bush. He was joined in his opinion by Judge Carolyn Dineen King, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter; and Judge Catharina Haynes, who was also appointed by Bush.

The case is National Rifle Association of America Inc et al v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives et al, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 11-10959.

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Comments (5)
ZunarJ5 wrote:
In that case 18 – 21 YOs should not be required to pay taxes either. Are they citizens with full rights and responsibilities or are they not?

Oct 25, 2012 7:23pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
reality-again wrote:
Liquor stores, bars and restaurants are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages to 18-21 year old kids, and permanent US residents are not allowed to vote. But all these people are required to pay taxes like everybody else.
Laws can make sense without being fair.

Oct 26, 2012 4:39pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
AmericanFury wrote:
There was a time when we had a longstanding tradition of keeping slaves, too. Didn’t make it Constitutional, did it? The ONLY legitimate compelling government interest is to OBEY THE CONSTITUTION! THEN, after the Constitution is obeyed, it can consider other interests. “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.” Infringed means limited. Very specific and clear, this gun law is NOT constitutional. These judges need to be censured and disbarred.

Oct 26, 2012 9:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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