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Appeals court says law blocking licensed firearm dealers from selling handguns to 18- to 20-year-olds is unconstitutional

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A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday ruled that a decades-old law preventing licensed firearm dealers from selling handguns to anyone below the age of 21 years old is unconstitutional.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2-1 ruling from a three-judge panel overturned a lower court’s decision upholding the law, according to the Associated Press.

The outlet — which noted that the 5th Circuit in the past has ruled in a contrary manner regarding the same topic — said that it is not evident if the decision will have an immediate effect. The AP noted that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms could pursue an appeal before the full 4th Circuit panel.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2012 that 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law.

“Despite the weighty interest in reducing crime and violence, we refuse to relegate either the Second Amendment or 18- to 20-year-olds to a second-class status,” Judge Julius Richardson wrote in the 4th Circuit opinion.

Richardson, who was appointed by Republican President Donald Trump, was joined in the opinion by Judge G. Stephen Agee, who was appointed by GOP President George W. Bush, according to Roll Call.

The ruling pertains to a law that has been on the books for over 50 years that blocks licensed dealers from selling any firearms other than rifles and shotguns to people ages 18- to 20-years-old. While all firearm sales to those under 18 are deemed unlawful, sales of rifles and shotguns to those 18 and up are not prohibited.

The majority opinion stated, “The irony does not escape us that, under the government’s reasoning, the same 18- to 20-year-old men and women we depend on to protect us in the armed forces and who have since our Founding been trusted with the most sophisticated weaponry should nonetheless be prevented from purchasing a handgun from a federally licensed dealer for their own protection at home. We refuse to accept this conclusion. These men and women who, historically, have served either voluntarily or by conscription may not be read out of ‘the people’ in the Second Amendment.”

Obama-appointed Judge James Wynn Jr. dissented, writing that “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.”

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