US judge strikes down federal law barring handgun sales to those under 21

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A federal judge in Virginia has struck down federal laws that block the sale of handguns to buyers under the age of 21, ruling they violate constitutional rights to possess firearms.

The ruling, which the Justice Department is expected to challenge, will not take effect until judge Robert Payne, of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, issues his final order in the coming weeks.

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The ruling would not affect the 19 states that have their own laws barring handgun sales to anyone younger than 21.

Payne’s ruling follows on the Supreme Court’s significant expansion of gun rights in the past year, which the judge frequently referenced in his ruling issued on Wednesday.

“Because the statutes and regulations in question are not consistent with our nation’s history and tradition, they, therefore, cannot stand,” Payne wrote in his decision.

Lawyers representing the Justice Department in the case did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Elliott Harding, the attorney for the four original plaintiffs who were ages 18 to 20 and wanted to purchase handguns, said he was pleased with the decision.

“Even though it ensures that future buyers can now purchase these firearms in the federal system, one that includes background checks and other requirements, we expect the Defendants will appeal,” Harding said. “Nevertheless, we remain optimistic that the decision will be affirmed in due course.”

Gun rights, held dear by many Americans and promised by the country’s 18th Century founders, are a contentious issue in a nation with high levels of firearm violence, including numerous mass shootings.

There have been at least 210 so far in 2023, the most at this point in the year since at least 2016, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The nonprofit group defines a mass shooting as any in which four or more people are wounded or killed, not including the shooter.

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