Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Latest From NPR

California's under-21 gun sales ban is unconstitutional, court says

A gun store in Arcadia, Calif., on March 15, 2020. A federal appeals court has ruled that California's ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under age 21 is unconstitutional.
Ringo H.W. Chiu
/
AP
A gun store in Arcadia, Calif., on March 15, 2020. A federal appeals court has ruled that California's ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under age 21 is unconstitutional.

A U.S. appeals court ruled Wednesday that California's ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21 is unconstitutional.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday the law violates the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms and a San Diego judge should have blocked what it called "an almost total ban on semiautomatic centerfire rifles" for young adults. "America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army," Judge Ryan Nelson wrote. "Today we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms."

The Firearms Policy Coalition, which brought the case, said the ruling makes it optimistic age-based gun bans will be overturned in other courts.

However, the ruling was not a total victory for gun rights advocates.

They had sought to block the state from requiring a hunting license for purchases of rifles or shotguns by adults under 21 who are not in the military or law enforcement.

Handgun sales to those under 21 were already prohibited when the hunting license requirement was passed in 2018 after some of the nation's worst mass shootings were committed by young adults using rifles, including the Valentine's Day slayings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The court ruled the hunting license requirement was reasonable for increasing public safety through "sensible firearm control."

In 2019, the state passed an additional law banning sales of semiautomatic centerfire rifles to anyone under 21. There were exemptions for police or military troops but not for those with hunting licenses.

Matthew Jones, a 20-year-old at the time from Santee in San Diego County, was the lead plaintiff in the case. He said he wanted a gun for self-defense and other lawful purposes but didn't want to obtain a hunting license.

His lawsuit, which had been filed before the under-age ban on semiautomatic weapons, was amended to challenge that law and the hunting license requirement.

The suit said the state had "whittled down (the) already inapplicable and irrelevant hunting license 'exemption' — the only exemption that is even possible for an ordinary, law abiding young adult who does not wish to enter into a highly dangerous career in law enforcement or the military — by prohibiting an entire class of firearms."

The two judges who ruled in the majority were part of President Donald Trump's wave of conservative-approved nominees to the famously liberal court.

A dissent was written by U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein, who was assigned to the panel from the Southern District of New York. Stein was nominated to the lower court by President Bill Clinton.

Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge, who wrote both laws, said he was disappointed the semiautomatic ban was struck down but was pleased the hunting license requirement survived.

"I remain committed to keeping deadly weapons out of the wrong hands," Portantino said. "Student safety on our campuses is something we should all rally behind and sensible gun control is part of that solution."

Attorney General Rob Bonta's office said it was reviewing the decision. In a statement, a spokesperson said it was committed to "defending California's commonsense gun laws."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.