Skip to Main Content

Giffords Law Center Arguments Used to Uphold Federal Minimum Age Law in Key Court Case 

October 7, 2019 — A key federal court ruling relied on Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s arguments to uphold federal minimum age laws for buying firearms. The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued a decision rejecting a challenge to the longstanding federal law restricting the purchase of handguns by minors under the age of 21 from federally licensed firearm dealers.

The news came as the Supreme Court rejected a request by New York City to dismiss a challenge to a now-repealed provision in the city’s handgun licensing law. That case is scheduled for oral argument on December 2nd and will be the first time in ten years the Court considers a major Second Amendment challenge. During the past decade, federal district and appellate courts have applied the Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, to uphold longstanding and essential gun safety laws Heller had recognized as constitutional.

Hannah Shearer, Giffords Law Center Litigation Director:

“With the Supreme Court gearing up for a pivotal hearing on a gun safety case, we commend the Virginia district court for recognizing that a reasonable minimum age for handgun purchases is consistent with Second Amendment law. Minors under the age of 21 have carried out some of the deadliest gun massacres in recent years. Beyond the large scale rampages that shake the nation are the daily tragedies that involve younger Americans. Those who are under 21 and obtain a gun are responsible for a disproportionate share of everyday violent crimes and gun crimes, and are also at a much greater danger of attempting suicide with a firearm. In light of these risk factors, a minimum age for handgun purchases is as valid and important as the age limits our nation imposes on activities like driving, voting, and drinking alcohol.”

Giffords Law Center participated in the oral argument in the case, detailing how social science research and Second Amendment precedents show that the minimum age law is constitutional.

 Read Giffords Law Center’s amicus brief.

In a previous brief, Giffords Law Center presented and analyzed social science studies on adolescent brain development and the effectiveness of minimum age laws, and also discussed federal crime data showing the need for these laws. Firearm homicides and violent crimes disproportionately involve individuals under 21, and this group is also at a higher risk of attempting suicide.

 Read Giffords Law Center’s amicus brief.

Since the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, four states have addressed the ability of individuals under age 21 to access firearms: California, Florida, Vermont, and Washington. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, America’s largest firearms retailer, have similarly raised the minimum age required to purchase certain or all firearms to 21. 72 percent of Americans, including 63 percent of people in gun-owning households, support raising the age to purchase long guns to 21.

Related resources: