In fact, not only did U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne grant class action status to the lawsuit brought by Virginia resident John Corey Fraser, he issued a nationwide injunction against enforcing the federal prohibition on handgun sales for adults younger than 21… though he did throw DOJ a bone by staying the injunction in order to give the government time to appeal.
While 19-year-olds can’t run out and buy a pistol from a gun store quite yet, Fraser’s decision is still very good news for those who want to see the right to keep and bear arms taken seriously by the legal system.
By infringing upon the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, the challenged statutory and regulatory provisions inflicted an irreparable injury on Plaintiffs. “[I]t is well-established that ‘(t]he loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.’” Legend Night Club v. Miller, 637 F.3d 291, 302 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976))}. The same holds true for Second Amendment freedoms. After all, the Second Amendment “is not a second-class right.” New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc., Inc. Bruen, 142 S.Ct. 2111, 2156 (2022) (quotation marks and citation omitted). As the Supreme Court explained in Bruen, because “[t]he Second Amendment is the very product of an interest balancing by the people. . . it surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms for self- defense.”
Contrary to the Government’s view,’ it does not matter that, one day, Plaintiffs will age out of the prohibited category. Since they turned 18, and at this moment and this point in their lives, their constitutional rights have been, and continue to be, denied by the Government’s conduct in enforcing the challenged statutory and regulatory regime. That establishes that the Plaintiffs have suffered an “irreparable injury.”
Nor is the irreparability of the constitutional injury eliminated because, as the Government argues, the Plaintiffs and class members “may lawfully obtain handguns as a gift from their parents.” Nothing in the Second Amendment limits the Plaintiffs’ exercise of their constitutional rights to what a third-party, by grace, may choose (or not) to do to help Plaintiffs exercise that right (here the right to purchase that which the Second Amendment entitles them to purchase on their own).
DOJ will most likely appeal both parts of Payne’s order to the Fourth Circuit, challenging both the class action certification as well as the injunction that was issued. As Payne noted in his ruling, one of the reasons why he stayed the injunction was the split that’s developed among courts across the country, with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that adults under the age of 21 can be prohibited from purchasing any firearm, while other judges have ruled that bans on carrying and other prohibitions for under-21s are unconstitutional.
We’ll be talking more about this case on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co with plaintiffs’ attorney Elliott Harding, and I’m looking forward to hearing from him directly about the next steps in the litigation and what it means to young adults across the country to have this lawsuit certified as a class action. Payne’s decision might not have an immediate impact on their Second Amendment rights, but it could very well be a game (and law) changer going forward.