Is Trump's Push for an AR-15 Age Limit Constitutional?

By Nelson, Steven | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, February 23, 2018 | Go to article overview

Is Trump's Push for an AR-15 Age Limit Constitutional?


Nelson, Steven, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Some gun law experts say the Second Amendment prevents President Trump from implementing a ban on young adults buying AR-15-style rifles.

Trump endorsed limiting sales of the semi-automatic guns to adults 21 and older after a 19-year-old murdered 17 people at a school last week in Florida. Although legal opinion is divided, several experts believe federal judges would strike down a purchase ban affecting 18-to-20-year-olds.

The one-sentence Second Amendment doesn't mention age, and views vary on its precise meaning. But over the past decade, courts have taken an expansive view, with the Supreme Court recognizing a right to own handguns and many lower courts easing concealed carry rules.

Some federal courts have dealt with a different firearm age limit, upholding the 21-year-old age requirement for handgun sales by licensed dealers. That rule passed Congress in the Gun Control Act of 1968, long before the AR-15 became one of the nation's most popular guns, and doesn't ban young-adult handgun possession.

A fiery 2013 dissent from Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith Jones suggests a divided judiciary on the handgun sales restriction.

In her dissent, Jones wrote: "Congress has seriously interfered with this age group's constitutional rights because of a class-based determination that applies to, at best, a tiny percentage of the lawbreakers among the class. Of course, the lawbreakers obtain handguns, but the law-abiding young adults are prevented from doing so, which adds an unusual and perverse twist to the constitutional analysis."

The Supreme Court declined to review the Fifth Circuit decision, leaving the age-limit question unsettled. But several attorneys involved with gun-rights litigation say they see its days as numbered and believe the justices would also knock down a new AR-15 age limit.

Michael Connelly, executive director of the U.S. Justice Foundation, a public interest law firm that supports gun-rights advocates, said, "I think an effort to ban people between 18 and 21 from purchasing AR-15s would be vulnerable to a Second Amendment challenge, particularly in light of the current makeup of the Supreme Court."

"The Second Amendment does not provide an age limit," Connelly said. "It simply states that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed upon. It must be remembered that at the time preceding the revolution most colonies required men 16 and older to be in the militia and provide their own firearms. Thus there was no age limit on their ownership put in the Constitution."

Connelly said that, by contrast, "there was an age limit for voting and it had to be changed by the passage of the 26th Amendment," and that "therefore, unless Congress and three fourths of the states choose to amend the Constitution and place an age limit on the Second Amendment, the simple passage of legislation to do so would probably not pass constitutional muster."

Connelly noted the military pulls heavily from the 18-to-20-year-old age group and that "saying that this same group is too immature to own certain firearms privately would be a tough argument to make."

Attorney Stephen Halbrook, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute who has written briefs for and argued gun-rights cases before the Supreme Court, also believes a higher age limit would be unconstitutional.

"The proposed ban on federally licensed dealers selling rifles, including the AR-15, to persons in the 18-to-20 age group would, in my view, violate the Second Amendment," Halbrook said.

"At the time of the founding, 18 was the age for membership in the militia under the federal Militia Acts of 1792 and the state militia laws. Each militiaman was required to provide his own musket or rifle. Today, 18-year-olds can join the military and can vote. They are emancipated citizens," he said.

"I predict that there will be significant pushback to a rifle sale ban on the 18-20 age group, as that has never been illegal in U. …

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