Analysis: Recent Decision Striking Down Handgun Sales to Young Adults

by Tommy Grant

A recent court decision striking down the federal law that prohibits firearms dealers from selling handguns to 18- to 20-year-old adults could have a very positive effect on young adult Americans’ ability to buy a handgun for self-defense, range use, competition and a number of other perfectly lawful reasons. However, as with most court case decisions, don’t count those chickens before they hatch. In the case Brown v. ATF, Judge Thomas S. Klesh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia declared the law unconstitutional and granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.

“The core issue the Court must answer under Bruen remains whether our Nation’s history and tradition contains ‘analogous’ restrictions on the ability of 18- to 20-year-olds to purchase firearms,” Judge Klesh wrote in the ruling. “Defendants have not presented any evidence of age-based restrictions on the purchase or sale of firearms from before or at the Founding or during the Early Republic. Defendants have likewise failed to offer evidence of similar regulation between then and 1791 or in a relevant timeframe thereafter. For that reason alone, Defendants have failed to meet the burden imposed by Bruen.”

Judge Klesh added: ”… because Plaintiffs’ conduct—the purchase of handguns—‘fall[s] [within] the Second Amendment’s unqualified command’ and the challenged statutes and regulations are not ‘consistent with the Nation’s historic tradition of firearm regulation,’ the Court finds 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(b)(1) and (c)(1) facially unconstitutional and as applied to Plaintiffs.”

Joshua Prince is an attorney specializing in 2nd Amendment- matters. And while he wasn’t involved in the Brown case, he has a similar lawsuit awaiting judgment, expected soon, in the 3rd Circuit. Prince said that since last year’s Bruen decision, the federal government has a very weak case in defending the 18- to 20-year-old restrictions.


“The government’s arguments that they contend permit them to restrict adults from being able to purchase handguns are very interesting,” Prince said in an exclusive interview with Firearms News. “They try to argue that the age of majority is 21 when that isn’t really supported by the historical analysis, as well as the fact that when you look at the plain text of the Second Amendment, it has no restricting age specified therein. That’s unlike other provisions of the U.S. Constitution that specify, for example, to be a member of the House you have to be at least 25 years of age, for the Senate you have to be 30 years of age and to run for president you have to be 35 years of age. 

“The Second Amendment doesn’t include any such limiting age-specific language like those provisions do.”

Prince said that, as the court found in Brown, there really is no basis for the government to be able to ban handgun sales to adults 18- to 20-years-old.

“You do not see restrictions on individuals in relation to purchasing, possessing, utilizing firearms and ammunition,” he said. “And in fact, as the court emphasized, the Militia Act specified that everyone 18 years of age or older was part of the Militia, and that I believe was enacted around 1792, which is close in time to the adoption and ratification of the Second Amendment, which was in 1791.”

With the recent judgment, one might think that commercial firearms dealers now have the green light to sell handguns to 18-, 19- and 20-year-old Americans who can pass the federal background check. Unfortunately, that’s not the case—and likely won’t be for a long time.

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“I cannot fathom that the U.S. government will not appeal this case,” Prince said. “It’ll be up to the district court judge, initially, as to whether to grant that stay. If the district court judge refuses to grant the stay, then [the government] would be able to go to the Circuit Court of Appeals and ask that Circuit Court to potentially grant a stay until it renders a decision. 

“So, depending on exactly how everything unfolds, I would suspect that either the district judge will give them the stay or, if not, that the Circuit Court will say that it intends to grant a stay until it makes a final decision in the matter.”

Of course, the Biden Administration is in full support of the young adult handgun ban, as well as just about any other gun ban. Unfortunately, it isn’t just Democrats who see things that way. Republican President Donald Trump supported the ban on handgun sales to young adults during his administration and even supported a ban on selling long guns to those same citizens.

Will lawful 18- to 20-year-old Americans ever finally have this onerous restriction lifted and be able to practice their Second Amendment rights like those who are just a few years older than them? And where might this important decision finally end up? We posed those questions to Prince.

“I truly hope so,” Prince said. “I believe that’s both what the constitution and law require. However, I fully expect that the U.S government is going to continue to litigate these cases and deny individuals between 18 and 21 until such time as a final determination is rendered.

“I suspect this issue, whether through the Brown case or another case, will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Unfortunately, with the wheels of justice turning as slowly as they do, most Americans currently 18 to 20 will likely turn 21 before their right to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer is ever officially recognized.

About the Author

Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for nearly 25 years. 

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at [email protected].

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