Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 12, 2022


Page 1


Ninth Circuit:

Young Adults Have Right to Purchase Semiautomatic Rifles

Panel Says, in 2-1 Decision, That California Statute Banning Such Sales Contravenes Second Amendment; All Three Judges Agree That Conditioning Sales of Long Guns by Persons 18, 19, 20 on Hunting License Is Valid


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Persons aged 18, 19 or 20 are unlawfully denied their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment by virtue of California’s ban on sales to them of semiautomatic centerfire rifles, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday, but declared that sales of long guns to persons in that age group may lawfully be conditioned on obtaining a hunting license.

Although the majority’s opinion partially reverses an order denying a preliminary injunction, it leaves no room for doubt as to what the final outcome is expected to be.

“America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army,” Judge Ryan D. Nelson said in an opinion concurred in by Judge Kenneth K. Lee, who also wrote separately. “Today we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms.”

Nearly Total Ban

Nelson went on to say:

“We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to enjoin the requirement that young adults obtain a hunting license to purchase a long gun. But the district court erred in not enjoining an almost total ban on semiautomatic centerfire rifles. First, the Second Amendment protects the right of young adults to keep and bear arms, which includes the right to purchase them. The district court reasoned otherwise and held that the laws did not burden Second Amendment rights at all: that was legal error.”

History shows that young adults were intended by the framers of the Constitution to be protected by the Second Amendment, he said, noting:

“[A]t the time of the founding, all states required young adults to serve in the militia, and all states required young adults to acquire and possess their own firearms.”

‘Severe Burden’

 Nelson termed the ban on sales of semiautomatic rifles to adults under the age of 21 “a severe burden on the core Second Amendment right of self-defense in the home.”

With handguns—which he said are “the quintessential self-defense weapon”—also being off-limits, young adults are relegated to non-semiautomatic rifles, which Nelson noted are cumbersome to use and unsatisfactory “in a life or death situation,” rimfire rifles which he pointed out have “poor stopping power” and are designed for hunting small game, and shotguns.

“Even acknowledging that shotguns are effective weapons for self-defense in the home, shotguns are outmatched by semiautomatic rifles in some situations,” he wrote.

He added that young adults are left “with a self-defense weapon which is not ideal or even usable in many scenarios,” concluding that this “is a severe burden.”

Strict Scrutiny Warranted

The jurist said that District Court Judge M. James Lorenz of the Southern District of California also erred in applying intermediate rather than strict scrutiny to the near-total ban on semiautomatic rifles. He explained that while the ban on sales of long guns can be averted—“young adults can get hunting licenses”—the only way adults under the age of 21 can buy a semiautomatic rifle is “by joining the police force or military” which, he observed, “[f]or most young adults, that is no exception at all.”

But even under intermediate scrutiny, he opined, the ban would have to fall. That’s so, Nelson said, because under intermediate scrutiny, there must be a “a reasonable fit” between the challenged law and the stated objective.

California’s objective, he recited, is “to promote public safety and reduce gun violence and crime.” Nelson remarked:

“We agree with Defendants that the fit need only be reasonable, not perfect….But the  fit here is likely not even reasonable. The district court abused its discretion in finding that Defendants could likely show a reasonable fit.”

Lee’s Concurring Opinion

California sought to justify the semiautomatic rifles ban by noting that while young adults comprise less than five percent of the population, 15 percent of “homicide and manslaughter arrests” are of persons in that age group. Ridiculing that approach, Lee wrote:

“Men have been involved in 99% of all mass shootings in America since 1966. according to a database maintained by the Violence Project. California can thus theoretically claim that if men cannot own firearms, it will eliminate 99% of mass shootings.

“But as tempting as that solution may sound to some, such a law almost certainly would not pass constitutional muster. And the reason is obvious: its scope would not be remotely, let alone reasonably, tailored to the praiseworthy goal of curbing gun violence.”

Visiting Judge’s Dissent

Dissenting was District Court Judge Sidney H. Stein of the Southern District of New York, sitting by designation. He argued:

“While I do not dispute that the semiautomatic rifle regulation places burdens on young adults who wish to purchase or otherwise receive semiautomatic centerfire rifles from [federally licensed firearms dealers], I do not find that it is a ‘severe burden’ on young adults’ Second Amendment rights….As the majority  acknowledges, young adults still have access to reasonable  alternatives for self-defense in the home, including the  shotgun and other forms of long gun.”

Accordingly, he said, strict scrutiny is not warranted, and the statute passes intermediate scrutiny. Stein maintained:

“…California provides substantial and substantiated justifications for its enactment of the semiautomatic rifle regulation.”

The ban on sales of semiautomatic rifles to persons under the age of 21 was signed into law on Oct. 11, 2019. It was enacted in after a man, 19, on April 27, 2019, used such a weapon to murder a woman and wound three others at a synagogue in Poway.

The case is Jones v. Bonta, 20-56174.


Copyright 2022, Metropolitan News Company