Hirschfeld v. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco & Explosives, No. 19-2250 (4th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of the motion to dismiss plaintiffs' action seeking an injunction and a declaratory judgment that several federal laws and regulations that prevent federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to any 18, 19, or 20 year olds violate the Second Amendment.
The court rejected the government and amici's argument that the challenged laws fall into two categories on the presumptively valid list in Dist. of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 592–95, 628 (2008): conditions on commercial sales and longstanding regulations.
The court found that 18 year olds possess Second Amendment rights, concluding that the Constitution's text, structure, and history makes clear that 18 to 20 year olds were understood to fall under the Second Amendment's protections. The court explained that those over 18 were universally required to be part of the militia near the ratification, proving that they were considered part of "the people" who enjoyed Second Amendment rights, and that most other constitutional rights apply to this age group.
The court also concluded that the laws do not pass intermediate scrutiny. The court acknowledged that the government's interest in preventing crime, enhancing public safety, and reducing gun violence are not only substantial, but compelling. However, the court explained that, to justify this restriction, Congress used disproportionate crime rates to craft over-inclusive laws that restrict the rights of overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens. And in doing so, Congress focused on purchases from licensed dealers without establishing those dealers as the source of the guns 18 to 20 year olds use to commit crimes. The court reasoned that Congress may not restrict the rights of an entire group of law-abiding adults because a minuscule portion of that group commits a disproportionate amount of gun violence. The court stated that Congress's failure to connect handgun purchases from licensed dealers to youth gun violence only serves to highlight the law's unduly tenuous fit with the government's substantial interests. Therefore, 18 to 20 year olds have Second Amendment rights and the challenged laws impermissibly burden such rights. The court reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.