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Settle v. Elhert: Fighting for Background Checks in Virginia

Case Information: Mitchell v. Atkins, No. 3:19-CV-05106-RBL (W.D. Wash. brief filed April 7, 2020).

At Issue: In 2018, voters in Washington State approved a ballot initiative (Initiative 1639) which, among other things, raised the minimum age to buy semiautomatic assault rifles to 21 from 18. Plaintiffs claim that the age restriction imposed by the initiative is unconstitutional because it prevents 18-to-20 year olds from exercising their Second Amendment rights to own semiautomatic rifles.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief, jointly filed with Brady, argues that Washington’s age restriction law does not affect conduct protected by the Second Amendment. We then argue that even if the court finds that the law does affect protected conduct, this law easily survives intermediate scrutiny. Due to 18-to-20-year-olds’ higher rate of suicide attempts and the risk of this demographic carrying out mass shootings at schools, and the disproportionate use of rifles in suicides by 18-to-20-year-olds, this law is a reasonable fit to address the substantial public safety goal of reducing gun deaths. Our brief further argues that the “semiautomatic assault rifles” regulated by Washington’s law are an exceptionally lethal subset of long guns, and that by defining the group of weapons based on the mechanical traits that enable their lethality instead of external features like pistol grips, the law limits possible attempts to circumvent regulation through slight modifications to feature designs.

 Read the full text of our amicus brief here.