U.S. appeals court erases ruling allowing gun sales to people under 21

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Guns are displayed after a gun buyback event organized by the NYPD, in the Queens borough of New York City

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday threw out its recent decision that a federal prohibition on firearms dealers selling guns to young adults under 21 was unconstitutional, deciding the case was now moot because both plaintiffs have reached that age.

A panel of the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had issued the 2-1 ruling on July 13, authored by Circuit Judge Julius Richardson. But Richardson said it now serves the public interest to vacate the decision, clearing the way for further litigation on the matter.

Richardson also said the public and legal community will benefit because "the exchange of ideas between the panel and dissent will remain available as a persuasive source."

The federal measures being challenged bar handgun sales to people ages 18 to 20.

In the July decision, the panel's majority said people as young as 18 had a right to own guns under the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms.

It also said young adults could not be relegated to "second-class status," notwithstanding the "weighty interest in reducing crime and violence."

One plaintiff turned 21 before the court ruled, and the second turned 21 on July 25 before the court issued a mandate in the case. Both had sought unsuccessfully to buy firearms in Virginia, when they were younger.

"These young men and women are disappointed that the system continues to deny their equal access to fundamental liberties simply because of their youth" and because the litigation took too long, their lawyer Elliott Harding said in an email.

President Joe Biden's administration last month had asked the entire 4th Circuit to reconsider the panel's decision. That request is now also moot.

Judge James Wynn, who strongly dissented from the original decision, said on Wednesday the vacated ruling now has "no legal value" and its persuasive value "can be no more than the value of newspaper editorials."

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Nov. 3 in a separate case testing the constitutionality of a New York law restricting people's ability to carry guns outside the home.

A decision is expected by the end of next June. The case could generate the court's first major Second Amendment decision since 2010.

The case is Hirschfeld et al v Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco & Explosives et al, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-2250.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

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