A divided federal appeals court held the federal government could not restrict federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to law-abiding citizens under 21 years old, reports the Wall Street Journal.

This 2-1 decision Tuesday by the Richmond, Va.-based Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marked the first time that a high-level court very explicitly extended the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms to younger adults.

This appeal arose from a case brought by Natalia Marshall and Tanner Hirschfeld, who barred from purchasing firearms in Virginia because of their age, according to the Washington Post.

Marshal obtained a protective order against an abusive ex-boyfriend, and grew up training with guns, believing handguns are an “effective tool for protection,” according to court filings in the case.

According to the Wall Street Journal, they filed suit challenging a federal law that limits federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns and ammunition to people under 21.

Congress first enacted this restraint responding to a surge of violent crim committed by young people in the late 1960s. This age restriction though doesn’t apply or restrict young adults from possessing handguns or acquiring them as gifts or through private sales

Attorney Elliott Harding, who represented the plaintiffs, said that he was gratified that the court “recognized that these young adults are not second-class citizens” and that this ruling will enhance public safety by allowing young people to purchase handguns in a more regulated market with background checks, reports the Washington Post.

Circuit Judge Julius N. Richardson, who was appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump wrote that “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,” agreeing with Harding’s sentiment, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Judge Richardson said that 18- to 20- year-olds are responsible for only a tiny percentage of gun violence, meaning that Congress lacked a compelling enough reason to “infringe” on their Second Amendment rights.

Gun-control advocates pointed to studies that showed 18-to20-year-olds commit gun homicides at a four times higher rate than adults 21 and older do, says the Washington Post.

According to RAND, “Firearm homicides and violent crimes disproportionately involve individuals under age 21, both as perpetrators and as victims.”

In 2016, of the 8,545 firearm homicides committed for which the age of the offender was known, 46.8 percent were perpetrated by individuals aged 12-24, although this group only represents 17.7 percent of the general U.S. population.

Also, of all 2017 deaths among those aged 16-21, 16.8 percent were homicides, which is greater than the homicide related for the next-highest risk ages, reports RAND.

Judge Richardson also noted that most other constitutional rights aren’t age limited and that militia law enforced at the time the Constitution was ratified uniformly required those 18 and older to join and bring their own arms.

Circuit Judge James A. Wynn Jr., an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, disagreed, saying that the majority overarched by invalidating a “modest and long-established effort” to control gun violence.

He wrote, “The majority’s decision to grant the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than fifty years ago is not compelled by law.”

Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel at Brady, a gun-control advocacy group, said this ruling is dangerous as it doesn’t give proper defense to the government’s authority to prevent violence, says the Washington Post.

Also, the Wall Street Journal reported that a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, which defended the law in court, said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our options.”

The government is expected to appeal this ruling. A Supreme court review could mean broader implications for more than a dozen states that also limit the ability of people under 21 to purchase and possess handguns, concludes the Wall Street Journal.

Gabriela Felitto is a TCR Justice Reporting intern.

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