Second Amendment

4th Circuit vacates decision striking down age limit for handgun sales; is opinion still a 'persuasive source'?

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A federal appeals court has vacated its July decision finding that youths ages 18, 19 and 20 have a Second Amendment right to own handguns.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, vacated the July 13 decision because the plaintiff who challenged the federal law turned 21 on July 25, which was less than two weeks after it was issued.

Courthouse News Service and have coverage.

A petition for an en banc rehearing was pending when the court vacated its decision.

At issue was a 1968 federal law that bans federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to people younger than 21. The lawyer for plaintiff Natalia Marshall sought to avoid the mootness problem by adding parties, but the motion was filed with the appeals court July 27, two days after Marshall turned 21.

“By that time, the case was moot,” the appeals court said in a Sept. 22 opinion by Judge Julius Richardson.

The lawyer had also filed a motion to join new parties with the district court before Marshall turned 21, but the lower court lacked jurisdiction because of the appeal, Richardson said.

Richardson added that the public and legal community “will still retain some benefit” from the vacated panel opinion “because the exchange of ideas between the panel and dissent will remain available as a persuasive source.”

Judge James Wynn, who dissented from the initial panel opinion, disagreed with the “persuasive source” assertion in a concurrence.

“To be sure, vacated opinions do not even bear the label of dicta,” he wrote. “So if there is any persuasive value arising from vacated opinions, it can be no more than the value of newspaper editorials.”

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