Litigation Highlight: Young Adults Carrying Firearms

  • Date:
  • April 21, 2021

In Lara v. Evanchick, Judge William Stickman IV, a recent Trump appointee on the federal district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, upheld last week the state's licensing law and open carry restrictions as applied to 18-20 year-olds.  Under Pennsylvania law, only those over 21 are eligible to obtain the necessary license to carry a concealed firearm. Those lawfully allowed to possess firearms (including those 18-20 year old) are typically able to openly carry their guns instead. But Pennsylvania law declares that open carry on public streets and property is forbidden during a state of emergency, except for license holders, those (numerous groups) statutorily exempt from licensure, or those "[a]ctively engaged in a defense of that person's life or property from peril or threat." Pennsylvania (I learned by reading this opinion) has been under an unceasing declaration of emergency since January 10, 2018--initiated because of the opioid epidemic, sustained by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with both declarations renewed several times.

A group of under-21 year old adults and gun-advocacy groups sued, claiming that this collective set of regulations violated their Second Amendment rights. The court upheld the restrictions under step one of the two-part framework for Second Amendment challenges. At that step, said the court, its job was to determine "whether a gun restriction falls within the class of 'longstanding prohibitions' and 'presumptively lawful' regulations that the Supreme Court recognized as falling outside the scope of the liberty protected by the Second Amendment." Noting that the plaintiffs did not challenge any of the statutory restrictions in isolation, but rather their operation in tandem, the court found the laws imposed a much smaller burden than the plaintiffs suggested. The question it confronted was "whether age-related restrictions on carrying firearms--which, nevertheless, permit carrying for a broad range of purposes including the defense of 'life or property from peril or threat' and a range of other activities-are the kind of 'presumptively lawful regulatory measures' recognized by Heller that fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment." It held that they did, relying in part on precedent from other circuits, such as the Fifth Circuit's decisions in ATF v. NRA and NRA v. McCraw. Summing up, the court noted:

The question is not whether the challenged laws themselves date to the founding, but rather, only whether they are the sort that have long been accepted as being consistent with the right to keep and bear arms. As the cases above illustrate, there is no question that age-based restrictions on the ownership, use and, especially, carrying of firearms have a long history in this Country. A strong consensus exists among federal courts that such restrictions fall outside the scope of the rights protected by the Second Amendment. The Court will adhere to that consensus and reach the same result.