The National Rifle Association and two nineteen year olds, Andrew Payne and Katherine Taggart, filed a “Writ of Certiorari” to have the Supreme Court strike down a federal law that currently bans licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to minors. A “Writ of Certiorari” is a document which is filed with the Supreme Court to review the decision of a lower court, in this case the Fifth Circuit Court.
The new case, NRA v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (docket 13-137), raises a Second Amendment issue of whether Congress has the power to single out a specific group in society by withholding certain gun privileges. It is one of the broadest challenges to a gun control law to reach the Supreme Court since District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), which was a landmark case that established a personal Second Amendment right to have a gun for the act of self-defense.
Since 1968, Congress imposed limitations on gun access for anyone under the age of twenty-one. The specific issue in the new case is a ban on purchasing a handgun from a federally licensed gun dealer, for eighteen, nineteen, or twenty-year olds.
The law isn’t a ban from obtaining guns in the specified age group or obtaining handguns; parents or guardians may purchase handguns and the age group can buy a handgun in a private transaction. These young adults may also buy a rifle or shotgun from a licensed dealer, but not a handgun due to the current ban.
The petitioners, the NRA and the nineteen-year olds, filed the petition after the Fifth Circuit Court split eight to seven in denying the reconsideration of a ban that was upheld by a unanimous three-judge Circuit panel. By upholding Congress’ jurisdiction to curb gun rights for age groups, it raised ambiguity about whether young adults between eighteen and twenty are protected by the Second Amendment. The panel discusses that “Congress found that persons under 21 tend to be relatively irresponsible and can be prone to violent crime, especially when they have easy access to handguns….The Second Amendment, at its core, protects law-abiding, responsible citizens.” The word responsible is italicized to emphasize that the age group, according to the panel, is in fact irresponsible.
The panel concluded that even if minors are covered by the right to have a gun, Congress has the authority to limit commercial access to weapons most involved in violent crimes. The Supreme Court is also noted to have said that the Second Amendment right is not an absolute right, and can be denied to some in society.
The Supreme Court since District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), which extended the decision of District of Columbia v. Heller across the country at the state and local level, has turned down several challenges by gun rights advocates to federal or state restrictions. This case, which should be decided when the Justices’ new term begins in October, will illustrate whether the court will widen the scope of the Second Amendment or maintain its current stance on the issue.