The 5th Circuit Upholds a Ban on Sale of Firearms to People Under 21

Last month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1968 law that prohibits federally licensed firearm dealers from selling handguns to people under age 21.

The National Rifle Association challenged the law soon after the U.S. Supreme Court declared a broad Second Amendment right for individuals to keep and bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008.  The Supreme Court in Heller held that the Washington, D.C. statutes banning the possession of usable handguns at home — in addition to requiring residents to keep their firearms either disassembled or trigger locked violated the Second Amendment.  The Court invalidated the laws because they violated the central right that the Second Amendment was intended to protect—that is, the “right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

After Heller, the National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives arguing that 18 U.S.C.  §§ 922(b)(1) and (c)(1) , as well as attendant regulations, 27 C.F.R. §§ 478.99(b)(1), 478.124(a), and 478.96(b), which prohibited federally licensed firearm dealers from selling firearms to people between ages of 18 and 21, violated the Second Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.

The Fifth Circuit in National Rifle Association of America, Inc., et al. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, et al. was the first circuit court to address the constitutionality of a firearms law in light of Heller

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous three-judge panel held that the Congress adopted the law to help curb violent crime and that young persons under 21 presented a particular problem because they were immature and prone to violence.  Thus, the ban was “consistent with a longstanding tradition of age- and safety-based restrictions on the ability to access arms.”   The Court further noted that “unlike the D.C. ban in Heller, this ban does not disarm an entire community, but instead prohibits commercial handgun sales to 18-to-20-year-olds—a discrete category.”

While the NRA might appeal this decision to the Supreme Court, it is very unlikely that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case because the ban in question has been in place for over 40 years and constitutes a “long-standing tradition” and because it is not nearly as drastic or limiting as the ban implemented by the District of Columbia and struck down in Heller

Leiza Dolghih is a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP in Dallas, Texas and a Co-Chair of the firm’s Trade Secrets and Non-Compete Disputes national practice.  His practice includes commercial, intellectual property and employment litigation.  You can contact her directly at or (214) 722-7108.

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