Florida’s post-Parkland law raising minimum age to purchase a gun to 21 is upheld

Gun Rights


CNN
 — 

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a Florida law passed after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that raised the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21.

The 3-0 ruling from the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals comes as aged-based restrictions are shaping up to become a flashpoint in the legal battles over gun access since the Supreme Court last year laid out a new test for determining a gun restriction’s constitutionality.

Seventeen people were killed in the shooting by a 19-year-old on February 14, 2018.

In an opinion written by Circuit Judge Robin Rosenbaum, the panel concluded that the Florida law was “consistent with our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” – a reference to the Supreme Court’s landmark Second Amendment ruling last year that instructed courts to look to whether a firearm restriction has historical analogues when assessing the restriction’s constitutionality.

The National Rifle Association had challenged the Florida law shortly after it was signed in March 2018.

The ruling may also be short-lived. Republican lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would lower the minimum age required to buy a firearm in the state from 21 back to 18.

In its opinion, the 11th Circuit pointed to laws that barred young adults from possessing firearms that were enacted by states around the same time of the adoption of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which extended the Second Amendment protections to states.

“Between the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification and the close of the nineteenth century, at least sixteen states and the District of Columbia joined Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee—a total of at least twenty jurisdictions—in banning sales of firearms to 18-to-20-year-olds,” Rosenbaum wrote. “These regulations, like their pre-ratification predecessors, were state responses to the problem of deaths and injuries that underage firearm users inflicted.”

Much of the 11th Circuit opinion grapples with a question left open by the Supreme Court’s June decision – known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen: whether courts should look to the historical record around the Second Amendment’s ratification in 1791, or the ratification the 14th Amendment in the 1860s.

The 11th Circuit, coming down on the side of the more recent interpretation, said that “it makes no sense to suggest that the States would have bound themselves to an understanding of the Bill of Rights—including that of the Second Amendment—that they did not share when they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Rosembaum, an Obama appointee, was joined in the ruling by Circuit Judge Charles Wilson, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, and District Judge Anne Conway, an appointee of George H.W. Bush.

Lawyers for the NRA did not immediately respond to CNN’s inquiry about the ruling.

Legal experts say that it’s only a matter of time before the US Supreme Court again has to weigh in on the scope of the Constitution’s gun rights protections and clarify the legal questions that have arisen post-Bruen.

Before the Bruen decision, some appeals courts had upheld similar age-based gun restrictions, while others deemed those regulations unconstitutional.

Florida’s attorney general’s office spokesman Chase Sizemore did not weigh in on the ruling in response to a question from CNN, but noted the upcoming legislation to change the law.

“It is the duty of the Attorney General’s Office to represent the State of Florida, and as you know, the legislature will be considering amendments to the law during the current session,” Sizemore said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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