Abbott rejects calls to block under-21s from buying AR-15s

Abbott rejects calls to block under-21s from buying AR-15s
AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

Since the shootings at Robb Elementary in Uvalde,  Democrats and gun control activists in Texas have been demanding that Gov. Greg Abbott call the state legislature back for a special session on gun control. The pressure on Abbott has been ramped up over the past couple of weeks, with some parents and family members of the victims of the shooting protesting in Austin and calling for lawmakers to raise the age to purchase AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles from 18 to 21.

At a campaign event on Wednesday the Texas governor rejected the idea, telling supporters that he believes the plan would run afoul of the Constitution, and pointed to a recent decision by a federal judge in the state as evidence that courts wouldn’t look kindly on blocking adults from being able to lawfully purchase a firearm.

“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde — as much as they may want it — has already been ruled as unconstitutional,” Abbott said at a reelection campaign event in Allen.

… Abbott at his Wednesday campaign event brought up court rulings from the past three months, including a federal court in Fort Worth on Thursday that struck down a Texas law limiting adults under 21 from carrying handguns. U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman wrote that the Second Amendment does not specify limits on age.

In addition to the Texas carry case, Abbott also pointed to the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision declaring a California ban on the sale of semi-automatic rifles to under-21s unconstitutional.

While the Supreme Court hasn’t decided a case dealing with gun bans for under-21s, Abbott’s correct in pointing out that several lower courts have determined that 18-to-20-year-olds are indeed entitled to exercise their Second Amendment rights, and that any ban on modern sporting rifles for adults under the age of 21 isn’t likely to hold up in court.

Of course, that’s not stopping his Democratic opponent for governor from declaring that a ban should be put in place regardless of what the courts have had to say.

Frankly, I think we’re more likely to see the federal courts rule that the current ban on handgun sales to under-21s is unconstitutional than uphold a ban on the sale of modern sporting rifles to that same age group.

At the moment, there are about a half-dozen states that require purchasers of modern sporting rifles to be at least 21, but many of those laws are facing legal challenges of their own. In Florida, for instance, where the Republican-led legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott approved a law raising the age to purchase long guns from 18 to 21 following the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the NRA filed suit in federal court arguing that the law was unconstitutional. A U.S. District Judge upheld the law based on existing precedent, but said that the gun rights group had made a compelling argument.

This week the NRA filed a brief in that case, which is now in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, pointing to the recent decision in Texas dealing with carry bans for under-21s to bolster their argument that the Florida law violates the rights of young adults.

While the details of the Florida and Texas laws are different, the NRA contends that they involve similar underlying issues about gun restrictions on young adults.

“The [Texas] court’s opinion confirmed that young adults come within the Second Amendment’s protections, and that banning young adults’ right to purchase [or carry] a firearm is inconsistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” NRA attorney John Parker Sweeney wrote in a filing known as supplemental authority.

It might be possible to raise the age to purchase a long gun from 18 to 21 in Texas, but that doesn’t mean the law would be upheld. In fact, there’s a good change that a federal judge would block the law from being enforced in the first place even if the Texas legislature did approve the measure (which in itself is incredibly unlikely). Abbott is on strong legal ground when he calls the constitutionality of this proposal into question, but that won’t stop the gun control lobby and the O’Rourke campaign from continuing to press the issue in the weeks leading up to Election Day. So far, however, O’Rourke’s call for more restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms in the aftermath of Uvalde hasn’t changed the dynamics of the gubernatorial race, and I doubt that demanding a law likely to be overturned by the court is going to be a difference maker.