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Madison Lara v. Commissioner Pennsylvania State Police: Supporting Pennsylvania’s minimum age for publicly carrying a firearm during a state of emergency

Case Information: Madison Lara v. Commissioner Pennsylvania State Police, No. 21-1832 (3rd Cir. brief filed September 29, 2021)

At Issue: Pennsylvania law prohibits people under age 21 from carrying loaded firearms in public during an ongoing state of emergency. Appellants, three gun owners under the age of 21 and two national gun advocacy organizations, argue that Pennsylvania’s minimum age discriminates against young adults aged 18-20 and deprives them of their rights under the Second Amendment. However, such restrictions are a reasonable response to a significant public safety concern. Research shows that young adults are neurologically more prone to risk taking, and states of emergency heighten the risk of firearm-related violence.

Our Brief: In a joint brief with CeaseFire Pennsylvania Education Fund, we argue that Pennsylvania’s minimum age for public carry is constitutional. States implement a myriad of minimum age requirements that govern 18-20 year olds, from renting a car to buying beer. Such requirements recognize a robust body of scientific evidence demonstrating thatyoung adults’ brains do not fully develop until a person has reached their mid-20s. They are more prone to risk-taking, and more likely to deprioritize long-term outcomes than older adults.

The Third Circuit uses a two-step framework to analyze Second Amendment claims. First, a court must “ask whether the challenged law imposes a burden on conduct falling within the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee.” If not, the Second Amendment is unbothered. If it does find that the law does impose such a burden, the court must “evaluate the law under some form of means-end scrutiny.” The Challenged Laws apply only to the public carrying of firearms, an activity this Court has already concluded is “not part of the core of the Amendment.” 

We argue that, because these laws are narrowly tailored and serve the significant interest of protecting public safety, they do not infringe the Second Amendment. The right to bear arms is far from boundless, and nothing in the Second Amendment prevents modest, commonsense restrictions. This age-based restriction is also modest because it is time-bound: those subject to it quickly and invariably age-out. Appellants claim that the Challenged Laws should “be subjected to the strictest judicial scrutiny.” However, Courts overwhelmingly apply a lesser form of scrutiny in Second Amendment challenges, especially in modest regulations like this one, which do not touch the core of the Second Amendment right. 

In the Second Amendment context, a court must uphold a law under intermediate scrutiny if there is a “reasonable fit” between the challenged law and a “significant, substantial, or important” government interest “such that the law does not burden more conduct than is reasonably necessary.” We argue that Pennsylvania’s restrictions are more than substantially related to the state’s paramount interest in ensuring public safety. Moreover, research establishes that restrictions like the challenged laws are effective in reducing firearm violence.

For these reasons, we argue that the Third Circuit Court should affirm the District Court’s holding at step one of the Second Amendment inquiry.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.