It perhaps goes without saying that there are many conflicts between what is constitutionally permissible and what is legal or illegal in modern America. One of those conflicts was highlighted on July 13 when a three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled by a 2-1 vote that the legally required minimum age of 21 for purchasing handguns violates the Second Amendment. The origin of this ruling is a 2018 lawsuit brought against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) by Natalia Marshall of Virginia. Marshall, who feared an abusive ex-boyfriend, was 18 when she was denied the right to purchase a handgun.
In 1968, Congress, citing the need to confront violent crime among young people, passed a law that set the minimum age for the purchase of handguns at 21. Judge Julius N. Richardson, in his ruling on Tuesday, challenged the fairness and methodology underpinning the 1968 law. One could argue that the judge need only highlight the four words, “shall not be infringed,” from the Second Amendment. Since this was a ruling against a long-standing federal law, however, he and Judge G. Steven Agee, who joined him in the decision, argued that Congress had not sufficiently justified the law.
A Flawed Argument
As The Epoch Times reported, Richardson wrote in his opinion: “Congress used disproportionate crime rates to craft overinclusive laws that restrict the rights of overwhelmingly law abiding citizens.” He went on to argue that the crime statistics cited at the time did not prove that guns purchased from licensed firearms dealers by 18- to 20-year-olds could be established as the source of the crimes in question. It was something else that Richardson wrote, though, that goes to the heart of the debate over Second Amendment rights:
“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 … Congress may not restrict the rights of an entire group of law-abiding adults because a miniscule portion of that group commits a disproportionate amount of gun violence.”
In just those few lines, Richardson demolished the political left’s entire argument for both existing and new gun restrictions. Additionally, the judge pointed out a fundamental flaw in the handling of Second Amendment rights by generations of American politicians, including many Republicans.
No constitutional right is as strictly regulated, nor as difficult to exercise, as that which is contained in the Second Amendment. Now that, thankfully, women, blacks, Native Americans, and other ethnic minorities all enjoy equal rights in the eyes of the law, there are no conditions placed upon the exercising of any constitutional right like those imposed on the Second Amendment. Gun owners in America have effectively been relegated to second-class status; the Second Amendment itself is viewed by too many people as unworthy of the sanctity conferred upon the rest of the Bill of Rights. And 18- to 20- year-olds, who are permitted to exercise all other rights, are being unfairly and unconstitutionally discriminated against when they are prohibited from purchasing firearms.
It is a question of whether or not these rights are absolute. Many leading Democrat politicians, including Joe Biden himself, argue that no constitutional right is absolute. But why? Where in the Second Amendment – or, indeed, in the First – are conditions placed upon the scope of those rights? Surely the Founding Fathers, if they had intended those rights to be conditional, would have included such provisions within the amendments themselves.
Take articles I and II of the Constitution, for example. Not everybody can be a U.S. representative, or a senator, or president. Minimum age requirements are placed upon those who wish to obtain any of these offices, as are citizenship requirements. So, the Framers laid out in the document itself the criteria that must be met by individuals wishing to obtain elected office.
No such conditions appear in the Second Amendment. “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There is no ambiguity there. Presumably, “the people” refers to those of military age, which in the United States today is 18. This very fact was reflected in Richardson’s ruling:
“The militia laws in force at the time of ratification [of the Second Amendment] uniformly required those 18 and older to join the militia and bring their own arms. While some historical restrictions existed, none support finding that 18-year-olds lack rights under the Second Amendment.”
The historical restrictions to which the judge referred were prohibitions placed upon blacks and Native Americans from owning firearms. Those restrictions had nothing to do with crime rates, however. As Liberty Nation has previously pointed out, preventing Native Americans and blacks from owning guns was merely a way of trying to ensure that the oppressed remained oppressed.
Thankfully – once again – such prohibitions are no longer in place and, without them, there is no reasonable, credible, or historically accurate argument that the Second Amendment was ever intended to be limited in scope. There is certainly no reasonable argument that Americans from age 18 to 20, who are free to exercise all other constitutional rights, should be denied the right guaranteed to them – as originally intended – by the Second Amendment.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.