Tennessee drops defense of carry ban for under-21s

Tennessee drops defense of carry ban for under-21s
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

Second Amendment advocates have notched a big win in Tennessee after the head of the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security agreed with gun owners that a state statute barring adults under the age of 21 from carrying a firearm or even obtaining a concealed carry license is a violation of their constitutional rights.

The admission puts an end to a federal lawsuit known as Beeler v. Long, originally brought by plaintiff Blake Beeler with the help of the Firearms Policy Coalition, and has been percolating around the U.S. District Court in Knoxville for a couple of years. Last November, however, a joint motion was filed on behalf of both the state and Beeler seeking a 60-day stay while the parties worked out an agreement, and on Monday the court issued its agreement order confirming that the state has no plans to continue enforcing the carry ban for young adults.

THE PARTIES AGREE, AND THE COURT ORDERS, AS FOLLOWS:

1. The Challenged Scheme regulating the possession and carrying of handguns that restricts individuals aged 18 years old to 20 years old from carrying handguns or obtaining permits to carry handguns on the basis of age alone violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

2. Defendant and his officers, agents, employees, and all others acting under his direction and control, are permanently enjoined from implementing or enforcing the Challenged Scheme to prevent individuals aged 18 years old to 20 years old from carrying handguns or obtaining permits to carry handguns on the basis of age alone.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Crytzer’s order instructs the state to begin processing concealed carry applications from adults younger than 21 within 90 days, and declares that applicants “shall not” be denied a carry license simply because of their age.

“FPC Law is thrilled with today’s settlement,” said FPC Director of Legal Operations Bill Sack. “Our position all along has been that peaceable adults of all ages have human rights – even those aged 18 to 20. To restore the rights of an entire community of folks in Tennessee is a great win for us.”

The settlement states the restriction for those ages 18 to 20 was a violation of the Second Amendment and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as it restricted use solely based on age.

Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Jeff Long, the defendant in the suit, is required to share the settlement agreement with the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association and the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.

Tennessee lawmakers had debated making this change on their own last year, but while a bill lowering the age for concealed carry was approved by the House, it was never heard on the Senate floor. It would have been better for everyone had legislators approved that bill at the time, but at least the state recognizes the constitutional issues with depriving young adults access to their right to bear arms in self-defense.

Beeler v. Long isn’t the only federal case dealing with gun bans for under-21s, and the Supreme Court could get the chance to weigh in before long. A similar ban on gun sales to young adults approved by Florida lawmakers in 2018 is currently before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit declared last year that the state’s ban on sales of so-called assault weapons to adults between the ages of 18 and 20 violates their constitutional rights. There are additional federal challenges on either carry bans or possession bans for under-21s in states like Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Illinois, Minnesota, and Georgia as well, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats from calling for new age-based restrictions in places like New Mexico and at the federal level as well. On Monday, Sens. Feinstein, Blumenthal, and Murphy introduced not only a bill to ban so-called assault weapons, but a backup bill that would allow for continued sales but prohibit those under the age of 21 from purchasing or possessing modern sporting rifles.

Depriving adults of their right to bear arms hasn’t fared well in federal court so far, but that won’t prevent anti-2A activists and politicians from putting new bans in place wherever they can. Until and unless SCOTUS eventually steps in some states are going to continue violating the fundamental right to armed self-defense for an entire class of American citizens simply because of their age. Given the fact that the suspects in the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings were in their 70s and 60s, respectively, I wonder if we’ll see gun prohibitionists try to bar all senior citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights as well. According to the anti-gun crowd, adults can be too young to own a gun, after all, so why wouldn’t they also contend that we age out of our right to keep and bear arms when we’re eligible for a Social Security check?

These types of age-based restrictions make no sense, and they certainly don’t comport with the Constitution. I’m glad to see the state of Tennessee do the right thing here, however belatedly, but these particular infringements aren’t going to go away completely until SCOTUS steps up and strikes them down.