Delaware Gov. John Carney has signed several gun control measures into law this year including HB 451, which bars adults between the ages of 18 and 20 from purchasing or possessing firearms with only limited exceptions. The Delaware State Sportmens Association, which has already filed lawsuits against gun and magazine bans also signed into law by Carney, has now launched a separate legal challenge aimed at striking down the state’s ban on firearms for adults under-21.
In a statement announcing the new lawsuit, the DSSA labels HB 451 as discriminatory and accuses Carney and Delaware Democrats of depriving young adults of their “God-given and constitutionally protected right to defend themselves, their homes and their families.”
Section 20 of the Delaware Bill of Rights clearly proclaims in no uncertain terms that “A person has the right to keep and bear arms for defense of self, family, home and State, and for hunting and recreation.” House Bill 451 clearly denies those rights to adult persons 18, 19 and 20 years of age and who had not reached their 18th birthday when the Governor signed the bill on June 30, 2022.
Today the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery seeking to vindicate those rights and to put an end to this invidious form of politically motivated age discrimination. Our suit seeks both injunctive and declaratory relief. DSSA was joined in this action by the Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club, and an individual adult member of both organizations.
DSSA President Jeffrey W. Hague said of this action, “DSSA has been protecting and defending the rights of Delaware’s hunters, sportsmen and women, and law-abiding gun owners since 1968. This is not the first time we have challenged unconstitutional and illegal actions of government officials in court, and it will not be the last. We promised our members and the people of Delaware that if HB 451 ever became law we would challenge that law in court and today we kept that promise.”
One of the few exceptions to Delaware’s gun ban for young adults are those who possess a license to carry a concealed deadly weapon; a provision that forces young adults to undergo what the DSSA describes as an “extremely vague, arbitrary and burdensome registration and licensing process” that involves providing proof of completion of a live-fire firearms training course and references from five “respectable citizens of the county in which the applicant resides at the time of filing the application” attesting to the applicant’s “good moral character.”
HB 451’s unconstitutional licensing process reduces fundamental rights to mere privileges to be granted or denied at the whim of public officials and private individuals, accountable to no one, to whom the State of Delaware has impermissibly delegated the authority to review and publish applicants.
HB 451’s unconstitutional licensing process conditions the grant of what is a fundamental right of all citizens upon vague, arbitrary, and discriminatory requirements such as proof of “good moral character.” Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 at 2135 n.1 (noting with disapproval states with licensing scheme that give officials discretion to deny licenses based on a perceived lack of suitability).
HB 451’s unconstitutional licensing process is arbitrary, lengthy, expensive, invasive and completely unnecessary. Every firearm purchaser must already pass a background check under federal law which the federal government has streamlined via computer to take place in mere minutes. See, Bruen, at 2138 n.9, (declining to rule out constitutional challenges to licensing regimes where, for example, lengthy wait times in processing license applications or exorbitant fees deny ordinary citizens their right to public carry.)
Ordinary, law-abiding Delawareans ages 18 years-old through 20 years-old are completely barred from purchase and/or ownership of common firearms mislabeled as “deadly weapons” prior to applying to and participating in HB 451’s unconstitutional registration and licensing process.
As the lawsuit notes, even before the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Bruen the federal courts were already starting to cast a critical eye on laws limiting or forbidding young adults from exercising their Second Amendment rights, and there are no real historical analogues to Delaware’s new restrictions that the state can point to in defense of its ban under the text, history, and tradition test laid out by SCOTUS just a few months ago. This should be a legal slam dunk for the DSSA, but it will be at least a couple of weeks before the state responds and a judge decides on whether to grant an injunction blocking enforcement of the law while the case is being litigated. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the Second Amendment rights of young adults are restored in Delaware, but I’m sure that the state’s Democratic legislative majority is already scheming about their next round of gun control legislation aimed squarely at legal and responsible gun owners.