Federal Lawsuit Filed Over The Right To Carry For Under-21s

Three young Pennsylvania gun owners have filed suit in federal court in Pittsburgh, alleging that the state’s requirement that only those over the age of 21 can obtain a concealed carry license violates their Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The suit, brought in conjunction with the Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition, is one of several recent court challenges to laws subjecting those between the ages of 18 and 21 to various restrictions.

“We’ve filed this action because the situation in Pennsylvania smacks of discrimination against young adults in the 18- to 20-year age group,” said SAF founder and executive vice president Alan M. Gottlieb.

“Young adults can join the military, where they might be assigned to carry firearms all over the world. They can get married, start businesses, enter into contracts and yet they are not considered mature enough to exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. That’s nonsense,” he said.

State police Commissioner Col. Robert Evanchick is the sole defendant in the case, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argues that Pennsylvania state law — which prohibits the carrying of firearms on public streets or property during an emergency declared by a state or municipal executive — is in violation of the Second and Fourteenth amendments.

Pennsylvania allows for open carry (with the exception of Philadelphia), but not during a state of emergency. When an emergency is declared, as the lawsuit argues, only those who possess a valid license to carry can legally bear arms. I was surprised to learn that the state has actually been operating under a declared emergency for two years, which in and of itself seems actionable.

It turns out that Gov. Tom Wolf declared a statewide disaster and emergency based on the rising number of opioid-related overdose deaths back in January of 2018, and the declaration has remained in effect ever since. Wolf also declared an additional disaster emergency in March of this year during his first round of COVID shutdowns, so residents are actually living under two emergencies as defined by the governor.

If that’s the case, then openly carrying a firearm isn’t an option for the three named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Their only option to legally carry a firearm is to get a concealed carry license, which the state has deemed off limits to those under the age of 21. As attorneys Joshua Prince and Adam Kraut argue in their filing,

Throughout American history, arms carrying was a right available to all peaceable citizens. Sometimes, it was even a duty. Moreover, young adults between 18 and 21 were fully protected by the Second Amendment at the time of its ratification. Hundreds of statutes from the colonial and founding eras required 18-to-20-year-olds to keep and bear arms.

Only dangerous persons have historically been deprived of the right to bear arms. Peaceable persons have always been free to carry arms for selfdefense and other lawful purposes. The tradition of disarming violent and dangerous persons was practiced from medieval England through mid-20th century America, but there is no tradition of disarming nonviolent people like Plaintiffs Lara, Knepley, and Miller.

That sounds like a nod to Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s dissent in Kanter vs. Barr, where she talked about “dangerousness” being the proper standard to deny someone their Second Amendment rights, as opposed to a blanket prohibition on the right to keep and bear arms for those convicted of a felony, even a non-violent offense. Considering the strong possibility that Barrett could be a sitting Supreme Court justice when this case eventually makes its way for consideration by the Court, it’s not a bad move to tailor a portion of the argument to appeal to her judicial philosophy.

Both attorneys contend that the issue is that, even though the plaintiffs are young adults, they’re still adults. If any of the three were caught committing a crime with a gun they’d be charged as an adult, but the law doesn’t allow them to legally carry one for self-defense, even though they’re legally allowed to own a handgun.

“The text of the Second Amendment makes clear that the right to bear arms ‘shall not be infringed,’ and nothing in America’s history or tradition supports Pennsylvania’s laws banning carry by young adults,” explained Adam Kraut, FPC’s Director of Legal Strategy and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “Pennsylvania’s statutory scheme unconstitutionally and impermissibly denies young adults their fundamental, individual right to bear arms outside the home. Through this case, we seek to vindicate our clients’ rights and restore individual liberty for millions of young adults.”

“In outright defiance of the Second Amendment, the State of Pennsylvania and Governor Wolf have restricted the ability of law-abiding young adults to carry and transport arms,” said Joshua Prince, counsel for the plaintiffs. “This prohibition ignores the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Heller that the right to keep and bear arms includes the right to carry a firearm ‘upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose … of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.’ Today, we seek to vindicate the rights of our clients and all young adults.”

The new lawsuit raises some very interesting issues, and I just hope that we don’t have a Supreme Court packed with anti-gun justices by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris when the case finally reaches SCOTUS in a couple of years.