NRA Loses in Court: Ban of Gun Sales to People Under 21 Upheld

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on October 26, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal appeals court has shot down an NRA lawsuit that sought to allow gun sales to adults 18 to 20 years old.

But the NRA could fire back with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The NRA suit challenged a federal law passed by Congress in 1968 that prohibits gun sales to anyone under 21, Reuters reports. Lawyers for the NRA argued the ban was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment's right to bear arms and the Fifth Amendment's right to equal protection.

The Constitution's equal protection clause requires that all citizens be treated the same under state laws. It is actually a component of the Fourteenth Amendment, which applies only to state governments.

But courts have interpreted the Fifth Amendment's due process clause as implying that all citizens must receive equal protection under federal laws as well.

In the NRA lawsuit, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the under-21 ban on gun sales did not infringe on the right to bear arms.

Such a ban "appears consistent with a longstanding tradition of age- and safety-based restrictions on the ability to access arms," the opinion states.

The court also noted that 18- to 20-year-olds could still lawfully use handguns for self-defense and for other purposes like recreation, Reuters reports.

Furthermore, an adult affected by the gun-sale ban merely has to wait until her 21st birthday to be able to legally purchase a gun, the three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit said.

Considering those caveats, the under-21 gun sale ban presents a reasonable means to achieve an important government interest -- addressing the "particular problem" of "young persons under 21, who are immature and prone to violence, easily accessing handguns," the court held.

A lawyer for the NRA expressed disappointment with the ruling, and said the group was considering whether to appeal. The Justice Department, which was the target of the lawsuit, did not respond to requests for comment by Reuters.

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