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Federal appeals court judges rule adults under 21 can buy handguns, but not quite yet

A panel of federal appeals court judges ruled that a 5-decades-old federal law barring young adults from purchasing handguns is unconstitutional

Young adults in America are barred from buying handguns before turning 21-years-old.
A panel of three judges from Virginia’s 4th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a federal law that prevents 18-to 21-year-old adults from buying handguns from licensed firearms dealers is unconstitutional, but young adults can’t buy handguns just yet.
Photo Illustration by Alex Cochran

Should young adults have the right to buy handguns before the age of 21? A a panel of federal appeals court judges in Virginia thinks so.

A panel of three judges from Virginia’s 4th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals decided Tuesday that a federal law that prevents 18-to 21-year-old adults from buying handguns from licensed firearms dealers is unconstitutional, The Associated Press reported. The federal judges voted 2-1 to overturn a lower court’s decision to uphold the more than 5-decades-old statue, reported the AP.

Judge James A. Wynn Jr., the lone federal appeals judge writing in dissent, accused the two other judges on the panel of “invalidating a modest and long-established effort to control gun violence,” reported the AP.

  • “The majority’s decision to grant the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than fifty years ago is not compelled by law. Nor is it consistent with the proper role of the federal judiciary in our democratic system,” wrote Wynn, according to the Post.
  • Former President Barack Obama appointed Wynn, a former U.S. Naval officer, in late 2009, and the judge was confirmed by the Democratic-held Senate the following summer.

Can barely legal adults buy handguns now?

Young adults looking to legally purchase a handgun this week should probably save their money for a while longer — and maybe for a few more years. Tuesday’s ruling doesn’t upend the federal law and kicks the case back to a Virginia district court, the Post reported.

  • The 4th Circuit judges’ ruling this week comes in direct conflict with a 5th Circuit U.S Court decision, where a similar panel upheld the federal law, the AP reported.

Reason, a libertarian magazine, reported that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will likely appeal the three judge panel’s decision and ask that all judges in the 4th Circuit decide the case.

  • And with divided rulings in two different circuits, there is a chance the case could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Reason.