A federal appeals court on Wednesday dismissed a July ruling that said a federal law banning handgun sales to young adults under the age of 21 was unconstitutional.
A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously ruled the case moot because the plaintiff in the case, a woman from Virginia named Natalia Marshall, turned 21 before the court’s decision became official, and is now able to purchase a handgun legally from licensed firearms dealers.
Although the 1968 Gun Control Act bars federally licensed dealers from selling handguns to people under age 21, they’re still allowed to sell long guns to those 18 and over. Exceptions to the age ban also exist for the limited purposes of employment, ranching, farming, target practice, or hunting.
The judges on Wednesday ruled that because Marshall is now 21, she no longer has a legally recognized interest in the outcome of the case. She filed the lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in 2018, when she was 18, after she was denied a handgun from a licensed firearms dealer because of her age.
When she filed the lawsuit three years ago, Marshall had said she wanted to purchase a handgun to be able to defend herself against her abusive ex-boyfriend, and other potential threats. Another plaintiff joined the suit but he has also turned 21.
“Despite efforts to add parties and reframe her claimed injuries, it is too late to revive this case. So it must be dismissed as moot,”Judge Julius N. Richardson, author of the court’s initial opinion, wrote on Wednesday.
“Once she turned 21, nothing prohibited her from buying the handgun she desired from a dealer of her choice. So her original claims are now moot,” the judge added.
Following the decision, Elliot Harding, Marshall’s attorney, said that he intends to challenge the court’s ruling.
“One way or another, these laws are going to continue to be challenged,” he said, The Washington Post reported. “It’s unfortunate that the government will evade the repercussions of the court’s thorough ruling simply because the nature of the laws at issue allow them to escape final review through our lengthy litigation process.”
The attorney added that the plaintiffs are disappointed “that the system continues to deny their equal access to fundamental liberties simply because of their youth.”
The Justice Department had asked the 4th Circuit to rehear the case after the first panel ruling in July found the law unconstitutional.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.