5th Circuit Affirms Ban On Sale Of Handguns To 18-20 Year Olds

In a decision released today, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the District Court opinion of Judge Sam Cummings that banning sales of handguns by FFLs to those over 18 but under 21 is legal. This case, originally named D’Cruz v. BATFE and now titled Jennings et al v. BATFE, was brought in US District Court for the Northern District of Texas back in September 2010 by the National Rifle Association.

According to a Reuters report on the 5th Circuit’s decision:

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston rejected the NRA’s argument that 18- to 20-year-olds had a right to buy the guns under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment.

A unanimous three-judge panel said Congress, in a law dating from 1968, adopted the sales ban to help curb violent crime. It also said that the nation’s founders and 19th-century courts and commentators believed that disarming specific groups did not trample on the right to bear arms.

“Congress was focused on a particular problem: young persons under 21, who are immature and prone to violence, easily accessing handguns,” mainly from licensed dealers, Judge Edward Prado wrote for the panel.

“The present ban appears consistent with a longstanding tradition of age- and safety-based restrictions on the ability to access arms,” he added.

You may remember that the Brady Campaign and other gun prohibitionist played gutter politics with this case. They accused James D’Cruz, then a freshman at Texas Tech, of having a Facebook page filled with “angry, violent Facebook postings.” D’Cruz was further demonized by Josh Horwitz of CSGV who said “he’s a poster boy for why we should prevent handgun sales to those under 21 years of age” and implied that he sounded like a school shooter.

The full 41 page opinion of the 5th Circuit can be found here. I have not had time to read it but hope to have an update posted after I have done so.

Oral Hearings In Jennings v. BATFE Were Held Yesterday

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments yesterday in the NRA’s appeal of Jennings et al v. BATFE. This case, originally known as D’Cruz v. BATFE, challenges the Federal law that bars 18-20 year olds from purchasing handguns at retail from a licensed firearms dealer.

This case was heard originally in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas before Judge Sam Cummings. He ruled for the BATFE and the NRA appealed a few days later. Judge Cummings found that the rights of 18-20 year olds were not violated as they could always buy a handgun privately and that it was within the purview of Congress to set the age at which someone could purchase a firearm from a dealer.

The NRA released this on the case:

Fairfax, Va. – Oral arguments occurred today in the United Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of Jennings v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, in which the National Rifle Association is appealing a decision by a federal court in Texas which held that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect the right of young adults to buy firearms from federally licensed dealers.

“The NRA has been engaged in this ongoing fight — not just in Congress and in state legislatures, but also in the courts — for the right of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms. All Americans deserve for their Second Amendment rights to be fully respected. If the law says you’re old enough to fight for your country, it should allow 18-20 year old adults to purchase and own a handgun for any lawful purpose,” Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued the ruling that is being appealed. The plaintiffs are a group of law-abiding 18- to 20-year old adults who are challenging the federal ban on dealer sales of handguns to persons under 21, who are treated as adults for virtually every other purpose under the law. The lower court wrongly compared the ban to other restrictions the Supreme Court has said would be “presumptively lawful,” such as the ban on sales to convicted felons.

The NRA filed a brief on behalf of these law-abiding young adults pointing out that nearly a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court decided District of Columbia v. Heller, the Fifth Circuit itself had held (in the 2001 case of United States v. Emerson) that Second Amendment claims should be decided based on the amendment’s history and text. The history of the Founding era makes clear that 18-year-olds were considered adults for purposes of the right to keep and bear arms; for example, the Militia Act of 1792 required 18-year-olds to “be enrolled in the militia” and to arm themselves accordingly.

A parallel case, challenging the state of Texas’ age limit of 21 for issuance of concealed handgun licenses, is also pending in the Fifth Circuit.

The oral hearings can be heard here. Arguing for the NRA was Charles Cooper and for the United State was Anisha Sasheen Dasgupta.

The case was heard before Judges Carolyn King (appointed by Jimmy Carter), Catherina Haynes (appointed by George W. Bush), and Edward Prado (appointed by George W. Bush). 

NSSF To File Amicus Brief In Jennings v BATFE Appeal

In their Bullet Points newsletter, the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced plans to file an amicus brief in support of the NRA’s appeal of Jennings et al v. BATFE. This was the NRA’s challenge in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on the prohibition of the sale of handguns to 18-20 year old adults by Federal Firearm Licensees.

In response to a ruling by a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas in favor of the federal government in a case brought by the NRA challenging the federal restriction on the purchase of handguns by 18-20 year old adults, NSSF plans to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of NRA’s appeal of the ruling. In the case, Jennings v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the NRA and a group of responsible young adults argued that since 18-20 year olds are considered adults for virtually every other purpose, such as voting and military service, adults in this age group should also be able to purchase handguns from licensed retailers. A similar case, in which many of the same plaintiffs challenge the state of Texas’ ban on issuance of right-to-carry permits to adults under 21, remains pending in the same court

Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed their appeal on October 7th and the case was assigned a docket number last week on the 19th. No briefs have yet been filed.


David Thompson, NRA Attorney – “We Are Disappointed In This Ruling”

One of the attorneys for the NRA in Jennings v. BATFE, David Thompson, was interviewed by Ginny Simone of NRA News about the dismissal of the case. Mr. Thompson said that while they have the utmost respect for Judge Samuel Cummings, they are disappointed in his ruling.

Mr. Thompson said they plan to appeal the ruling next week to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He said that he thought the judge erred in disaggregating the right of 18 to 20-year olds to possess a handgun from the right of those in this age group to purchase a handgun legally from a dealer. He also criticized the comparison of those in this age group to “infants”.

Jennings et al v. BATFE et al Loses In District Court

The NRA challenge to the ban on purchases of handguns from licensed dealers for those over 18 but under 21 was found in the favor of the defendants by U.S. District Court Judge Sam Cummings yesterday. The suit, Jennings et al v. BATFE et al (former D’Cruz v. BATFE), was brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

The NRA brought this suit approximately one year ago along with a companion suit against the State of Texas to allow the same age group concealed carry licenses. Texas currently only allows those who are serving or have served in the military to be able to obtain Texas concealed carry permits if they are under the age of 21. These are the suits in which the Brady Campaign took the low road and tried to villify James D’Cruz due to his Halloween costume.

The NRA brought both suits on Second Amendment and Equal Protection grounds.

The first thing Judge Cummings considered was whether the plaintiffs had standing to sue. The DOJ attorneys sought to have the case dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) saying that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the complaint. Judge Cummings denied their Motion to Dismiss saying:

The ban prevents 18- to 20-year-olds from purchasing handguns and handgun ammunition from FFLs who would likely purchase these items were it legal to do so. The NRA presents evidence from its vendor members that they have lost profits from refusing to sell handguns to 18- to 20-year-olds and would sell handguns to law-abiding citizens in this age range if it were legal to do so. The fact that the ban restricts a would-be buyers’ market demonstrates a judicially cognizable injury directly affecting FFLs. See Craig, 429 U.S. at 194. As such, the NRA also has standing to bring this suit on behalf of its FFL members.

Judge Cummings then examined whether the ban on the sale of handguns by FFLs to the 18 to 20-years olds violated their rights under the Second Amendment. Noting along the way that nothing precluded them from purchasing handguns in private sales, he said that based upon the exceptions noted in Heller and on 5th Circuit precedent which made a distinction between possessing and the dealing of firearms, the rights of this age group were not violated under the Second Amendment. He then suggested that it was up to Congress to make the decision on this.

In essence, it is within the purview of Congress, not the courts, to weigh the relative policy considerations and to make decisions as to the age of the customer to whom those licensed by the federal government may sell handguns and handgun ammunition.

With that he granted the government’s Motion for Summary Judgment and denied the plaintiffs cross-motion for summary judgment as to the Second Amendment grounds. He also denied as moot the defendant’s motion to dismiss on Rule 12(b)(6) grounds (failure to state a complaint).

Finally, Judge Cummings examined whether this ban on the sale of handguns by FFLs to 18 to 20-years olds violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause. While these rights apply expressly to the states, the Supreme Court has found that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment encompasses the rights provided by the Equal Protection Clause.

Noting that the Supreme Court has held that age is not a suspect classification and that the defendants had presented evidence that Congress in passing the Gun Control Act of 1968 had made the considered decision that this age group was “emotionally immature, or thrill-bent juveniles and minors prone to criminal behavior”, he again found that the government was not violating the plaintiffs’ Equal Protection rights. He applied a Rational Basis scrutiny to this claim and said:

Congress identified a legitimate state interest—public safety—and passed legislation that is rationally related to addressing that issue—the ban; thus, it acted within its constitutional powers and in accordance with the Equal Protection Clause.

With that he granted the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, denied that of the plaintiffs, and denied the defense motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) on their Equal Protection claim.

I would presume now that the NRA will appeal this case to the 5th Circuit as they needed a judgment at this level before they could move up the appellate chain. I know Alan Gura has said that in the cases he has brought for the Second Amendment Foundation that he has sought a quick decision, whether good or bad, so that the cases can then be brought to the relevant Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sebastian at Snowflakes in Hell is critical of Judge Cummings’ attempt to punt a decision on this back to Congress.

So Congress could say no one who has not yet attained the age of 90 is permitted to own a firearm, and that is completely within Congress’ purview? The Courts should have nothing to say about it? What other right do we treat that way?

It continues to amaze me how little regard lower courts have for Heller and McDonald. Maybe there’s sound legal reasoning involved here. I have not seen the opinion. But punting to Congress strikes me as awfully weak.

While I would agree with Sebastian, I do think Judge Cummings threw the NRA a bone when it said they and the plaintiffs had standing to sue. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect a District Court judge to go against precedent within his own circuit nor what other courts have said post-Heller on this sensitive issue. I think by saying they had standing and by closing this case out in just a little over a year, Judge Cummings may have done as much as he could do. This case was always going to be appealed regardless of how he ruled.

UPDATE: The NRA-ILA has announced plans to file a prompt appeal of Judge Cummings’ ruling in this case.

Yesterday, a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas ruled that the federal ban on dealer sales of handguns to adults from the ages of 18 to 20 does not violate the Second Amendment. The National Rifle Association plans to file a prompt appeal of the court’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

“We strongly disagree with this ruling,” said Chris W. Cox, Executive Director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. “As we said when we filed this case, adults 18 and up have fought and died for American freedom throughout our country’s history. They are adults for virtually every legal purpose under federal and state law, and that should include the ability to buy handguns from licensed dealers to defend themselves, their homes and their families. Our fellow plaintiffs in this case are law-abiding and responsible young adults. We plan to defend their rights to the very end.”

The case is Jennings v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A related case challenging Texas’ ban on issuance of concealed handgun licenses to adults in the same age group is still pending before the same court.

Changes In NRA Lawsuits In Texas

In the lawsuit the NRA brought against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, D’Cruz et al v. BATFE et al, James D’Cruz is being replaced as the lead plaintiff. According to the court filing, his parents have moved from Lubbock, TX to Titusville, FL and Mr. D’Cruz has chosen to move with them. He was given permission by the court to withdraw from the case as the lead plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s attorneys were given permission to file a Second Amended Complaint. The amended complaint was filed on February 11th. Rebekah Jennings and Brennan Harmon will be joining Andrew Payne as the individual plaintiffs in the case.

Rebekah Jennings is a resident of Boerne, TX. She has been a member of the U.S. Olympic Development Team for pistol shooting and is a member of the Texas State Rifle Association’s Junior National Team. Ms. Jennings not only shot for the TSRA Junior National Team, she was the high junior at Camp Perry this year in pistol shooting. Her score of 285×15 was not only good enough to win the Junior National Trophy Match but to shatter the old record. Ms. Jennings also made the President’s 100 for pistol shooting. The picture below is of her accepting her trophy at Camp Perry.

Ms. Jennings paired with another Texas junior shooter, Zach Hedrick, to win the Junior National Trophy Team match. You can see the picture of them below accepting that trophy.

The other new plaintiff is Brennan Harmon of San Antonio, TX. While Ms. Harmon currently owns both a rifle and a shotgun, she would like to purchase a pistol for self-defense according to the amended complaint. Of course, she and Ms. Jennings are both precluded from purchasing pistols due to current Federal law and regulations.

In a move that will greatly disappoint Paul Helmke and Josh Horwitz, Facebook pages for both Ms. Jennings and Ms. Harmon feature no pictures except for a profile picture. I am guessing that the NRA attorneys “sanitized” their Facebook pages to prevent having them dragged through the mud like Helmke and Horwitz attempted to do to James D’Cruz. Still I would put nothing past either Helmke or Horwitz in pursuit of their goal of gun prohibition.

James D’Cruz is still listed as the lead plaintiff in D’Cruz et al v. McCraw et al. This case is the challenge to the age 21 requirement to obtain a Texas CHL. I would not be surprised to see this change as well with Mr. D’Cruz’s move to Titusville, FL to live with his parents. If this does change, I will have an update.

H/T Sebastian

UPDATE: Ian asked a queston on whether the State of Texas issues non-resident concealed handgun licenses. They do but require the education component to be taught in Texas. As James D’Cruz has taken the education component while still residing in Texas, I don’t think this will be an issue.

Is Texas the proper venue for a non-resident to sue? I don’t know for sure but would guess it would be.

Below is the Texas requirements for a non-resident license as taken from their CHL Handbook.

GC §411.173. NONRESIDENT LICENSE. (a) The department by
rule shall establish a procedure for a person who meets the eligibility
requirements of this subchapter other than the residency requirement
established by Section 411.172(a)(1) to obtain a license under this
subchapter if the person is a legal resident of a state another state
or if the person relocates to this state with the intent to establish residency
in this state. The procedure must include payment of a fee in an
amount sufficient to recover the average cost to the department of
obtaining a criminal history record check and investigation on a
nonresident applicant. A license issued in accordance with the procedure
established under this subsection:
(1) remains in effect until the license expires under Section
411.183; and
(2) may be renewed under Section 411.185.
(a-1)*[repealed by Act effective September 1, 2005, 79th Leg., R.S., H.B. 225, §4.]
(b) The governor shall negotiate an agreement with any other state
that provides for the issuance of a license to carry a concealed
handgun under which a license issued by the other state is recognized
in this state or shall issue a proclamation that a license issued by the
other state is recognized in this state if the attorney general of the
State of Texas determines that a background check of each applicant
for a license issued by that state is initiated by state or local authorities
or an agent of the state or local authorities before the license is issued.
For purposes of this subsection, “background check” means a search
of the National Crime Information Center database and the Interstate
Identification Index maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
(c) The attorney general of the State of Texas shall annually:
(1) submit a report to the governor, lieutenant governor, and
speaker of the house of representatives listing the states the attorney
general has determined qualify for recognition under Subsection (b);
(2) review the statutes of states that the attorney general has
determined do not qualify for recognition under Subsection (b) to
determine the changes to their statutes that are necessary to qualify
for recognition under that subsection.
(d) The attorney general of the State of Texas shall submit the report
required by Subsection (c)(1) not later than January 1 of each calendar