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Tanner Hirschfeld v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives: Defending age restrictions on firearm purchases

    Case Information: Tanner Hirschfeld v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, No. 19-2250 (4th Cir. brief filed September 3, 2021)

    At Issue: Plaintiffs argue that 18-20 year olds have a Second Amendment right to purchase handguns, and seek to have several federal minimum age laws that ban dealers from selling to this age group struck down as unconstitutional. They argue that the government has not narrowly tailored these laws to a compelling interest under intermediate scrutiny. We argued in support of the constitutionality of these minimum age laws at the district court (motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment)—which upheld the laws—and again before the Fourth Circuit. The three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court, breaking from the Circuit’s precedent on this issue. ATF has asked the Fourth Circuit to take the case en banc to correct the panel’s erroneous decision. 

    Eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds experience a disproportionate share of violent crimes and homicides relative to older demographics—both as victims and perpetrators. This establishes a compelling government interest. Ruling these laws unconstitutional invites further challenges to restrictions targeted at younger adolescents. It calls into question the constitutionality of laws in at least nineteen states and the District of Columbia, including states in the Fourth Circuit,13 of which prohibit dealers from transferring firearms to those under 21.

    Our Brief: In a joint brief with Brady, Everytown for Gun Safety, and March for Our Lives, we argue in favor of federal law imposing age restrictions on firearm purchases, and asks the Fourth Circuit to take the case en banc  and correct the panel’s decision. Our brief argues that the panel, went well beyond its authority in making its decision, contradicting the Circuit’s practice of judicial restraint in this life-or-death realm. While claiming to apply intermediate scrutiny in evaluating the government’s interest, the panel held the government to a higher standard. It also failed to highlight important components of the government’s interest; for example, focusing solely on crime statistics relevant to 18-20 year olds while ignoring the large impact of suicide and accidental deaths on this age group. When interpreting the Second Amendments rights of 18-20 year olds, the panel ignored many laws passed post-ratification that support age restrictions for firearms purchases. Our brief also presents the 4th Circuit precedent of United States v. Hosford, which established that a condition or qualifications on commercial firearm sales was constitutional so long as it (i) “covers only the commercial sale of firearms”; (ii) “imposes a mere condition or qualification”; and (iii) is “longstanding.” This precedent is consistent with minimum age restrictions like the ones at issue.

    Read the full text of our amicus brief here.