Federal Judge Hears Challenge To Gun Ban For 18-20 Year Olds

A lawsuit challenging a Washington State law that forbids 18-20 year olds from purchasing a semi-automatic rifle had its day in court on Tuesday, though the judge who heard oral arguments seemed pretty dismissive of the idea that the law violates the constitutional rights of younger Americans. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton told attorneys for the plaintiffs challenging the law that they were facing “a stiff headwind” in their quest to have the law struck down.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton, who heard competing motions for summary judgment, said he expects to issue a ruling on or before Aug. 31. But he told attorneys at the outset of the hourlong hearing that the age restriction does not impact “a core function of the Second Amendment,” and noted 18- to 20-year-olds can still purchase other firearms, such as shotguns or bolt-action rifles.

“Mr. Ard, you’re going to have a very stiff headwind in your argument,” the judge told Bainbridge Island attorney Joel Ard, one of the attorneys representing the case’s plaintiffs, which include gun sellers and young people seeking to buy semi-automatic rifles.

Leighton, who conducted the hearing telephonically, said he had been enlightened by materials submitted by both sides.

“I don’t share the hyperbole about the evil of guns or the sanctity of the right to self-defense,” he said. “This is just a plain vanilla analysis of the law as I see it.”

With all due respect to Judge Leighton, I disagree that the law doesn’t impact a “core restriction of the Second Amendment.” Under state law, it’s already illegal to purchase any firearm without a background check, which means that 18, 19, and 20-year olds cannot legally purchase a handgun in the state. Add in the provision barring those same individuals from purchasing a semi-automatic rifle, and you’re now talking about depriving adults who are legally eligible to own a firearm from their ability to purchase the most commonly-owned firearms for self-defense that exist today. That’s absolutely an infringement on their core Second Amendment rights.

According to the Seattle Times, however, Judge Leighton sees things very differently.

Leighton told the attorneys he grew up in a rural community where he learned to shoot at age 6 and remembers students taking guns to school.

As a judge, “I’ve heard how these young people are impacted in their executive function. It’s akin to mental illness in their development,” Leighton said. Compared to the time and place where he grew up, “this is a different world in the urban Western District of Washington.”

In arguing the age restriction violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments, [plaintiff’s attorney Joel] Ard said, “No other enumerated right has been withdrawn from adult citizens.”

Leighton countered: “They’re not adults.”

Uhh, in what world are 18-year olds not adults? They’re eligible to vote, they can serve in the military and die for our country, they can run for many state offices, and the criminal justice system considers an 18-year old to have reached the age of adulthood.

The judge’s comment that young people today are basically suffering from a form of mental illness may be good for a chuckle or two, but it’s an incredibly weak argument to deny young adults their Second Amendment rights. It certainly looks like Judge Leighton will uphold the state’s ban on semi-automatic rifles for adults under the age of 21, but we’ll see what the Ninth Circuit has to say in the months ahead.