Second Amendment

People younger than age 21 have Second Amendment right to buy semi-automatic rifles, appeals court says

  • Print.

shutterstock_semi-automatic rifle

Image from Shutterstock.

California’s ban on the purchase of semi-automatic rifles by most people younger than age 21 violates their Second Amendment rights, a federal appeals court has ruled.

In a May 11 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco reversed a federal judge who had upheld the law.

“America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army,” wrote Judge Ryan D. Nelson in his majority opinion.

“Today, we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms,” Nelson wrote.

While the appeals court struck down California’s ban on younger-than-21 semi-automatic rifle purchases, it upheld a restriction requiring young adults to obtain a hunting license before they can purchase a long gun. Young adults are already banned from purchasing handguns in the state.

California’s ban on younger-than-21 purchases of semi-automatic rifles did not apply to law enforcement officers and people in active-duty military service. But that did not save the law, the 9th Circuit said.

“It’s one thing to say that young adults must take a course and purchase a hunting license before obtaining certain firearms,” Nelson wrote. “But to say that they must become police officers or join the military? For most young adults, that is no exception at all.”

The 9th Circuit said a district court judge properly applied intermediate scrutiny to the long-gun hunting license regulation. But the judge erred by evaluating the younger-than-21 semi-automatic gun ban using intermediate, rather than strict, scrutiny.

Even under intermediate scrutiny, the younger-than-21 ban on semi-automatic weapons should not survive, the appeals court said.

“We hold that California’s ban is a severe burden on the core Second Amendment right of self-defense in the home,” the 9th Circuit said.

“Semi-automatic rifles are able to defeat modern body armor, have a much longer range than shotguns and are more effective in protecting roaming kids on large homesteads, are much more precise and capable at preventing collateral damage, and are typically easier for small young adults to use and handle.”

Ryan’s opinion was joined by Judge Kenneth Kiyul Lee. U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein, a federal judge in New York sitting on the panel by designation, issued a partial dissent indicating that he would have upheld the ban on semi-automatic rifle purchases.

The case is Jones v. Bonta.

Hat tip to How Appealing, which noted the decision and coverage here and here. The New York Times and the Associated Press are among the publications that covered the decision.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.