Democrat AGs to young adults: No handguns for you!

(AP Photo/AJ Mast, File)

A coalition of 21 Democratic attorneys general have filed a brief in a case challenging the federal ban on sales of handguns and handgun ammunition to adults younger than 21, arguing that the 60-year-old prohibition should be upheld because it’s “consistent with this Nation’s relevant historical tradition of firearm regulation.”


The brief was authored by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who’s also defending the state’s ban on so-called assault weapons and “large capacity” magazines in both state and federal court. The AGs of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have all signed on to the brief to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently considering Reese v. ATF.

The lawsuit was filed back in 2020 by the Firearms Policy Coalition and the Louisiana Shooting Association, long before the Supreme Court issued its decision in Bruen, but it wasn’t until December of last year that U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays issued his ruling dismissing the case and siding with the federal government. In his decision, Summerhays basically cribbed from an earlier, pre-Bruen decision that concluded:

burdening the conduct at issue—the ability of 18–to–20–year–olds to purchase handguns from FFLs—is consistent with a longstanding, historical tradition which suggests that the conduct at issue falls outside the Second Amendment’s protection. At a high level of generality, the present ban is consistent with a longstanding tradition of targeting select groups’ ability to access and to use arms for the sake of public safety. More specifically, the present ban appears consistent with a longstanding tradition of ageand safety-based restrictions on the ability to access arms. In conformity with founding-era thinking, and in conformity with the views of various 19th-century legislators and courts, Congress restricted the ability of minors under 21 to purchase handguns because Congress found that they tend to be relatively immature and that denying them easy access to handguns would deter violent crime. . .


Summerhays found no reason to find fault with that ruling, despite the fact that other District Court judges in the Fifth Circuit’s jurisdiction have ruled otherwise, including a decision last year that struck down Texas’ ban on concealed carry for under-21s. With the case now before a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit, the anti-gun AGs are hoping to convince the court to allow the prohibition to remain in place, arguing that the Second Amendment should servce as no barrier to depriving young adults of their ability to purchase the most common arm used in self-defense. As Arizona AG Kris Mayes put it:

“Protecting our communities from gun violence requires multiple solutions, including laws already on the books,” said Attorney General Mayes. “For nearly 60 years, federal law has prohibited the sale of handguns from federally licensed dealers to individuals under 21. The Second Amendment allows for such age-based restrictions, and I urge the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to affirm the district court ruling and allow this critical safeguard to stand.”

Attorney General Mayes and the coalition explain the Second Amendment allows governments to enact sensible and varied regulations to protect the public, including age-based restrictions on the purchase, possession or use of firearms. Although regulations vary based on each state’s needs, virtually every state has imposed some form of age-based regulations on firearms, and at least 19 states and the District of Columbia have imposed regulations mirroring the federal minimum age requirement of 21 to purchase handguns.


We’re not talking about “some form” of age-based restrictions here. We’re talking about denying millions of young adults the ability to lawfully purchase a handgun at retail. As the courts have acknowledged, this isn’t a total deprivation of under-21s constitutional rights, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an infringement. Yes, it might be possible for some under-21s to purchase or receive a handgun through a gift or a private transfer in some states, but many will simply be deprived of their access to the quintessential firearm used for self-defense.

The Fifth Circuit has recently taken a dim view of the ATF’s bump stock ban and rules for stabilizing braces, and I hope that they follow suit when it comes to prohibiting young adults from acquiring a firearm through federally licensed firearm retailers. If the Second Amendment “allows” for under-21s to be barred from buying a handgun at a gun store, what Second Amendment rights do young adults actually possess? The Supreme Court has already said that the Second Amendment isn’t a second-class right, but they may soon be forced to decide whether young adults are second-class citizens.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member