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Fifth Circuit upholds ban on handgun sales to people under 21

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] on Thursday unanimously upheld [opinion, PDF] a ban restricting federally licensed firearms dealers (FFLs) from selling handguns to people under the age of 21. The restrictions were codified in sections of 18 USC § 922 [Cornell LII backgrounder], which passed as part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 [text, PDF]. The National Rifle Association (NRA) [advocacy website] challenged the statute and related regulations on two counts: first, that the ban violates Second Amendment [text] rights in light of the US Supreme Court [official website] holding in District of Columbia v. Heller [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], which prohibited the District of Columbia from banning private handgun ownership, and second, that the ban violates equal protection [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The Fifth Circuit found that the statute passed an intermediate scrutiny test:

We find that the government has satisfied its burden of showing a reasonable means-ends fit between the challenged federal laws and an important government interest. First, curbing violent crime perpetrated by young persons under 21—by preventing such persons from acquiring handguns from FFLs—constitutes an important government objective. ... Second, Congress selected means that were reasonably adapted to achieving that objective. Congress found that the ease with which young persons under 21 could access handguns—as opposed to other guns—was contributing to violent crime, and also found that FFLs—as opposed to other sources—constituted the central conduit of handgun traffic to young persons under 21. Congress, in turn, reasonably tailored a solution to the particular problem: Congress restricted the ability of persons under 21 to purchase handguns from FFLs, while allowing (i) 18-to-20-year-old persons to purchase long-guns, (ii) persons under 21 to acquire handguns from parents or guardians, and (iii) persons under 21 to possess handguns and long-guns.
The judge also rejected the equal protection claim, finding that the laws were rationally related to a legitimate state interest. The case was originally brought in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas [official website], where Judge Sam Cummings dismissed [opinion, PDF] the NRA's challenge in September 2011.

Challenges of state gun laws have been met with mixed success. In March a judge for the US District Court for the District of Maryland ruled [JURIST report] that a portion of Maryland's handgun permit law was unconstitutional because it violated the Second Amendment. Judge Benson Everett Legg ruled that the law limited individuals' rights to obtaining a permit by requiring a "good and substantial reason," and that the requirement was not reasonably adapted to a substantial government interest of public safety or crime prevention. In July 2010 Chicago citizens filed suit [JURIST report] against the city's gun control ordinance claiming it was unconstitutional. The law was approved [JURIST report] just four days after the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the Second Amendment applies to states and municipalities as well as the federal government. The regulations were upheld [JURIST report] by a federal judge who cited Heller, holding that the Second Amendment does not prohibit regulation of firearms where that regulation will "effectuate the goal of promoting public safety."

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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