1 (March 13, 2018)

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Can the Government Prohibit 18-Year-Olds

from Purchasing Firearms?



Michael John Garcia
Acting Section Research Manager

March 13, 2018
On March 9, 2018, Florida enacted new gun control legislation in the wake of a mass shooting at a
Parkland high school by a 19-year-old former student. Shortly after the Florida measure was signed into
law, the National Rifle Association (NRA) filed suit in federal court seeking to enjoin a provision of the
Florida statute, which renders it a felony for a person under the age of 21 to purchase a firearm. The NRA
contends that the provision is an unconstitutional infringement upon the rights of 18-to-20-year-olds to
keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment. Reviewing courts have held that some age-based
restrictions on firearms purchases by persons under 21 are permissible, including federal restrictions on
commercial dealers selling handguns to persons under 21 and juveniles under the age of 18 possessing a
handgun. But Florida's blanket prohibition on 18-to-20-year-olds purchasing any firearm may go further
than many measures that reviewing courts have previously upheld, raising the possibility that the NRA's
legal challenge to the restriction may clarify jurisprudence on whether and how the Second Amendment
applies to persons under 21.
In 2008, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, holding that
the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess firearms for historically lawful
purposes, such as self-defense in the home, placing some constraints upon the federal government's
ability to regulate firearms access. Two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Court concluded
that states are similarly barred from infringing upon this right by way of the Fourteenth Amendment. But
neither Heller nor McDonald purported to define the scope of the right protected by the Second
Amendment, and Justice Scalia's majority opinion in Heller cautioned that the right secured by the
Second Amendment is not unlimited. The Heller majority further emphasized that the Court's
recognition of an individual right to keep and bear arms did not upend many longstanding prohibitions
on the possession of firearms by certain categories of people (e.g., felons and the mentally ill). Nor did the
Court's ruling necessarily cast doubt upon laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the
commercial sale of arms.

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