A pair of gun rights organizations have scored an important court victory in Pennsylvania with a 2-1 ruling by a Third Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversing and remanding a lower court, dismissing a state prohibition on open carry of firearms by young adults ages18-20 during a declared emergency.
The state actually has changed the law since the suit was filed in 2020, but that does not lessen the impact, which centers around people in the affected age group being recognized as part of “the people” who are protected by the Second Amendment.
It is another court victory for the Second Amendment Foundation, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. SAF is joined by the Firearms Policy Coalition and three private citizens including Madison M. Lara for whom the case Lara v. Commissioner Pennsylvania State Police is named. They are represented by attorneys John D. Ohlendorf, Peter Patterson and David H. Thompson with Cooper & Kirk in Washington, DC, and Joshua Prince, with law offices in Bechtelsville, Pa.
The 2-1 ruling, written by Circuit Judge Kent A. Jordan, a George W. Bush appointee, notes, “It is undisputed that 18-to-20-year-olds are among “the people” for other constitutional rights such as the right to vote, freedom of speech, peaceable assembly, government and the right against unreasonable government searches and seizures…Indeed, wholesale exclusion of 18-to-20-year-olds from the scope of the Second Amendment would impermissibly render “the constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense … ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.’”
Elsewhere in his ruling, Judge Jordan observes, “(T)he Second Militia Act is good circumstantial evidence of the public understanding at the Second Amendment’s ratification as to whether 18-to-20-year-olds could be armed, especially considering that the Commissioner cannot point us to a single founding-era statute imposing restrictions on the freedom of 18-to-20-year-olds to carry guns. 21 The Commissioner’s contention that any reliance on 1789 militia laws would force us to invalidate laws prohibiting 16-to-17-year-old from possessing firearms is simply not persuasive.”
And, responding to the commissioner’s argument that the case is moot because the three citizens have reached age 21 and may now apply for concealed carry permits, the judge writes, “This is one such exceptional circumstance because, as the record shows, Pennsylvania has a recent history of declaring multiple emergencies, and it is reasonably likely that other 18-to-21-year-olds, including members of the organizational Appellants here, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition, will be banned from carrying guns in public yet again.”
Judge Jordan was joined in his opinion by Circuit Judge Brooks D. Smith, a Ronald Reagan appointee. Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, a Barack Obama appointee, dissented.
“This important ruling,” acknowledged SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb, “firmly establishes young adults are members of a class we consider to be ‘the people.’ By remanding the case back to the District court with instructions to enter an injunction forbidding the Commissioner of the State Police from arresting law-abiding 18-to-20-year-olds who openly carry firearms during a state of emergency declared by the Commonwealth. This is no small accomplishment in any state east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line.
“This is our second court victory of the new year,” noted SAF Executive Director Adam Kraut, “and we anticipate many more over the next 12 months as we observe our 50th Anniversary. Throughout 2024, we intend to keep winning firearms freedom one lawsuit at a time.”