A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday found that California's ban on those under 21 buying semi-auto rifles didn't hold water. 

The 100-page opinion was handed down in the case of Jones v. Bonta, which pitted several would-be gun owners and Second Amendment groups against the California Attorney General's office. At stake is the state's controversial prohibition on those aged 18 to 20 from buying certain firearms. Adopted in 2018, the California law followed similar ones passed in Vermont, Florida, and Washington, all of which have been challenged in assorted courts. 

Although California amended the law, just banning sales of semi-automatic centerfire rifles to young adults who could buy other long guns so long as they had a hunting license, and excepting law enforcement officers and active-duty military, the court said the state's ban still went too far. 

"America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army. Today we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms," said U.S. Circuit Judge Ryan D. Nelson in an opinion joined by U.S. Circuit Judge Kenneth K. Lee, both recent appointees to the federal bench by President Trump. 

The majority reasoned that the Second Amendment protects the rights of adults of any age to keep and bear arms – including the right to purchase them. Delving into history, the judges pointed out that able-bodied Englishmen at least 15 years of age were required to maintain personal arms to take part in militia activities – a practice that was brought to America in the 17th century by colonists. Later, the Second Amendment of the Constitution along with the Militia Act of 1792 enshrined this at age 18.

"Ultimately, the Second Amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms and refers to the militia. Young adults were part of the militia and were expected to have their own arms," said Nelson, later going on to point out, "Though public safety is important, firearms were also dangerous in 1791, when the Second Amendment was ratified, and the government then also had an interest in promoting public safety."

Judge Lee also wrote separately in the opinion that "California’s legal position has no logical stopping point and would ultimately erode fundamental rights enumerated in our Constitution."
U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein, joining the panel from the Southern District of New York, dissented with the majority, saying he agreed with the rest of the panel's holding and reasoning with respect to the long gun regulation but broke with them over semi-automatic rifle regulation. Stein, who sits in the Manhattan Federal Court, is a 1995 appointment by President Clinton. 

Second Amendment groups who are part of the case hailed the decision as a solid win for gun rights. 

"Today’s decision confirms that peaceable legal adults cannot be prohibited from acquiring firearms and exercising their rights enshrined in the Second Amendment,” said Firearms Policy Coalition Vice President of Programs Adam Kraut. "We are pleased to see progress on this important legal front and optimistic that similar results will come from our many other challenges to age-based bans filed in courts across the United States."

“We are delighted with the opinion,” said Second Amendment Foundation founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “The court majority rightly recognized that delaying the exercise of a right until age 21 does irreparable harm. It also applied strict scrutiny to the semi-auto ban.”

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