Ninth Circuit kills ban on gun sales for those under 21

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

In the United States, we generally consider those between the ages of 18 and 20 to be lawful adults. They can sign contracts, vote, and enlist in the military, all without parental permission. They can live on their own as well.

What they can’t do in some places is buy a firearm.

One of those places is California. At least, it was until the Ninth Circuit lowered the boom.

California has restricted the sale of most firearms to anyone under 21. Plaintiffs challenged the bans on long guns and semiautomatic centerfire rifles under the Second Amendment. The district court declined to issue a preliminary injunction.

We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to enjoin the requirement that young adults obtain a hunting license to purchase a long gun. But the district court erred in not enjoining an almost total ban on semiautomatic centerfire rifles. First, the Second Amendment protects the right of young adults to keep and bear arms, which includes the right to purchase them. The district court reasoned otherwise and held that the laws did not burden Second Amendment rights at all: that was legal error.

Second, the district court properly applied intermediate scrutiny to the long gun hunting license regulation and did not abuse its discretion in finding it likely to survive. But third, the district court erred by applying intermediate scrutiny, rather than strict scrutiny, to the semiautomatic centerfire rifle ban. And even under intermediate scrutiny, this ban likely violates the Second Amendment because it fails the “reasonable fit” test. Finally, the district court also abused its discretion in finding that Plaintiffs would not likely be irreparably harmed. We thus affirm the district court’s denial of an injunction as to the long gun regulation, reverse its denial of an injunction as to the semiautomatic centerfire rifle ban, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

One judge wrote a concurrence and one dissented, but yes, the Ninth Circuit just found for the Second Amendment side when Judge Robert Benitez wasn’t the only person hearing the case.

This, of course, is big. It’s not perfect–the hunting license requirement is still BS–but it’s significant.

Among those thrilled with the decision was the Second Amendment Foundation, which sent out a press release Wednesday.

Writing for the majority, Judge Nelson observed, “(T)he Second Amendment protects the right of young adults to keep and bear arms, which includes the right to purchase them. The district court reasoned otherwise and held that the laws did not burden Second Amendment rights at all: that was legal error…(T)he district court erred by applying intermediate scrutiny, rather than strict scrutiny, to the semiautomatic centerfire rifle ban. And even under intermediate scrutiny, this ban likely violates the Second Amendment because it fails the ‘reasonable fit’
test.”

“We are delighted with the opinion,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “The court majority rightly recognized that delaying the exercise of a right until age 21 does irreparable harm. It also applied strict scrutiny to the semi-auto ban.”

He noted this ruling could have an impact on another case challenging a similar prohibition in Washington State, which is also part of the Ninth Circuit. There, the prohibition was adopted via a citizen initiative in 2018, and was challenged by SAF and the National Rifle Association.

That’s an excellent point, and it may well play a factor.

The question now is, what’s next?

It’s possible California will just accept this ruling and call it a day, with Washington state having to face the possibility that their law will be overturned as well. I don’t think that’s likely, though.

Instead, I see this getting an en banc review of the entire Ninth Circuit. There, I wouldn’t actually be completely surprised to see the court overturn the law at that level. However, the two judges who made up the majority in this are both Trump appointees. I suspect there may not be enough judges who agree to overturn this law long-term.

Either way, someone is going to be in a position to take this to the Supreme Court. I sincerely hope they do, because I honestly don’t see how the Court could potentially not overturn it. These are lawful adults who are being denied a fundamental right.

And yes, even the Ninth Circuit (or at least three judges on the court) can apparently see that.