Should 18-to-20 year olds be allowed to buy handguns from FFLs? Fed. Appeals Court says 'No' (VIDEO)

By a vote of 8-7, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday opted not to rehear NRA v. BATF; a case that challenged a federal law that prohibits federally licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to 18-to-20-year-olds.

The vote upheld a previous three-judge panel ruling by the 5th Circuit, rejecting the National Rifle Association’s argument that the ban violated the Constitutional rights of 18-to-20-year-olds.

“Congress designed its scheme to solve a particular problem: violent crime associated with the trafficking of handguns from federal firearms licensees to young adults,” U.S. Circuit Judge Edward Prado wrote in the 41-page ruling.

Prado went on to note that Congress “could have sought to prohibit all persons under 21 from possessing handguns — or all guns, for that matter. But Congress deliberately adopted a calibrated, compromise approach.”

That “compromise” Prado is referring to is the fact that that age group can still receive handguns as gifts, carry them for self-defense (depending on state laws) and purchase them from private sellers — they just can’t buy them from gun dealers.

It should also be noted that 18-to-20 year olds have the freedom to purchase long guns from FFLs.

The ruling also contained some compelling evidence to give one pause to contemplate the “reasonableness” of the law as it relates to “intermediate scrutiny.”

For example, the ruling cites a 1999 report by the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Department of Justice that found, “In 1997, 18, 19 and 20 year olds ranked first, second and third in the number of gun homicides committed.”

Here is an excerpt from the study:

Of all gun homicides where an offender was identified, 24 percent were committed by 18 to 20 year olds. This is consistent with the historical pattern of gun homicides over the past 10 years.

Among murderers, 18 to 20 year olds were more likely to use a firearm than adults 21 and over. More specifically, in 1997, 74 percent of the homicides committed by 18 to 20 year old offenders involved firearms. In contrast, only 61 percent of homicides committed by offenders 21 or over involved firearms. The under-21 offender age groups showed a significant shift toward the use of firearms in committing homicides by the mid-1980’s. By the 1990’s, these offender groups were using firearms to commit homicides more than 70 percent of the time. Although the proportion of 18 to 20 year olds who use firearms to commit homicides has declined since the 1994 peak, it remains higher than levels recorded before 1990. Similarly, in non-lethal crimes, including assault, rape and robbery, 18 to 20 year old offenders were more likely to use guns than both younger and older offender age groups. For non-lethal crimes of violence from 1992 to 1997, in cases where the weapon and age of offender were identified, 15 percent of 18 to 20 year old offenders used a firearm, in contrast to 10 percent of adult offenders, and 5 percent of offenders 17 and under.

So, given all this data, one has to ask the question: is this an untenable law?

Before one answers this question, here are several things to consider:

  1. A citizen can join the military at 18.  In other words, one can fight and die for his/her country at 18, 19 and 20 years of age but he/she could not purchase a handgun from a local gun dealer.  This doesn’t seem to make much sense (Though, some states give special dispensation to active duty military and veterans under 21).
  2. The research cited in the ruling does not account for homicides that were drug and/or gang related.  It would be interesting to see how many of those aforementioned offenders had a prior criminal history and/or gang affiliations.
  3. Where’d those 18-to-20-year-old offenders get their guns?  According to a 2004 study conducted by the John Hopkins Center for Policy and Research, among offenders (of all ages) who were incarcerated from crimes committed with handguns, only 11 percent claimed to have obtained them from a licensed dealer.  The majority either got them from friends or family (39.5 percent) or the black market, i.e. ‘the street’ (37.5 percent).  Also, roughly 10 percent were stolen.
  4. Efficacy of the ban.  If the FFL ban on sales of handguns to this age demographic was repealed, would gun-related crime skyrocket?  Doesn’t seem likely considering that (a) the ways in which criminals reportedly get their handguns (see #3 above) and (b) the fact that any 18-to-20 year-old can simply purchase a handgun via the Internet.
  5. See video below:

In any event, the NRA could potentially appeal the 5th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court, but the likelihood that the high court will choose to hear the case is not all that great, at least according to law professor Eugene Volokh.

NRA vs. ATF Case No. 11-10959

So, all things considered, what are your thoughts? 

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