The chief judge for the U.S. Northern District Court in West Virginia on Friday ruled, in a case brought last year by the Second Amendment Foundation, that the federal prohibition on handgun sales and ownership for young adults in the 18-20-year age group is “facially unconstitutional.”
In his 40-page decision, U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas S. Kleeh, a Donald Trump appointee, wrote, “(B)ecause Plaintiffs’ conduct – the purchase of handguns – ‘fall[s] [within] the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command’ and the challenged statutes and regulations are not ‘consistent with the Nation’s historic tradition of firearm regulation,’ the Court FINDS 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(b)(1) and (c)(1) facially unconstitutional and as applied to Plaintiffs.”
The ruling will almost certainly be appealed, but in the meantime, Second Amendment advocates are celebrating what amounts to a significant win.
SAF was joined in the case by the West Virginia Citizens Defense League and individual citizens Steven Benjamin Weekly and Steven Robert Brown, the latter for whom the case is named. They were represented by attorneys John H. Bryan of Union, W.Va., and Adam Kraut, based in Westtown, Pa. Kraut also serves as SAF’s executive director.
“This is a huge victory for Second Amendment rights, especially for young adults,” said Kraut. “The Biden Justice Department argued that people in this age group were not adults, which was patently ludicrous. The government simply could not defend the constitutionality of the handgun prohibition, and Judge Kleeh’s ruling makes that clear.”
SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb was in a celebratory mood as well.
“There was never any historical evidence supporting this arbitrary ban on the purchase and ownership of handguns by young adults,” Gottlieb explained. “As we maintained all along, history goes in the opposite direction. At that age historically, young adults were considered mature enough to serve in the militia, the military and take on other responsibilities. We’re delighted with the judge’s ruling.”
The lawsuit was filed in September 2022. Named as defendants were the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, ATF Director Steven Dettelbach and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The ruling is also a setback for the Biden administration’s anti-gun-rights agenda, which Second Amendment advocates contend has been aimed at eroding their constitutional rights, rather than crack down on criminals.
The case was likely helped by last year’s Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which ruled current gun control laws must be based on a “historical tradition of firearm regulation,” and according to Judge Kleeh’s decision, the government could not demonstrate such a history.