Attorney General Bonta Calls on Court to Uphold Firearm Restrictions to People Under 21

Friday, May 19, 2023
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Joins multistate coalition in filing amicus brief calling on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to uphold the 60-year-old federal law that prohibits firearms retailers from selling handguns and handgun ammunition to individuals under the age of 21

SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a multistate coalition of attorneys general encouraging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to affirm a district court decision upholding the federal law restricting sales of handguns and handgun ammunition to people under 21 years of age in Reese v. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Explosives. The case addresses a Second Amendment challenge to the federal prohibition on sales of handguns and handgun ammunition to persons under 21 by federally licensed firearms dealers. The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss, and plaintiffs have appealed. The multistate coalition argues that an opinion striking down the federal law could undermine efforts by states to protect their citizens through the application of similar age limitations laws.

 “Upholding the federal law is especially important because individuals under 21 commit a disproportionate share of violent crimes,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. "For almost sixty years, federal law has prohibited federally licensed firearms retailers from selling handguns and handgun ammunition to individuals under the age of 21. It has stood the test of time and should be upheld to protect people across the nation. I stand with other states dedicated to safeguarding yet another commonsense gun law.” 

Plaintiffs challenge this restriction on the ground that it unduly infringes upon the Second Amendment rights of young people. But the Fifth Circuit rejected that claim in 2012 based on a historical record that provides abundant evidence of a longstanding tradition of limiting young people’s access to arms, and the district court here correctly reasoned that the Court’s prior analysis remains sound after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen. The Second Amendment allows governments to enact sensible and varied regulations designed to protect the public as long as those regulations are consistent with the nation’s historical tradition. 

Exercising that authority, 19 states and the District of Columbia have established a minimum age requirement of 21 for individuals to purchase handguns — essentially mirroring the federal law at issue. A decision setting aside the longstanding federal prohibition on handgun sales to individuals under the age of 21 could call those statutes, and others, into question.

These efforts continue the ongoing work of Attorney General Bonta to protect the public from gun violence. Recently, the Attorney General launched a first-in-the-nation Office of Gun Violence Prevention, took legal action against ghost gun retailers, advocated for and defended commonsense gun laws, worked on the ground to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals, and announced Senate Bill 2 (SB 2), to strengthen California's existing concealed carry weapon (CCW) lawsCalifornia’s Assembly Bill 1594 (AB 1594), which was sponsored by Attorney General Bonta and signed into law in July 2022, creates a pathway for Californians who have been harmed by gun violence to hold the appropriate parties — including gun manufacturers and distributors — accountable. AB 1594 goes into effect in California on July 1, 2023. 

Attorney General Bonta also provided grants to local law enforcement to support activities related to seizing weapons from individuals prohibited from possessing them, called on credit card companies to do their part to end illegal gun trafficking and mass shootings, and promoted the use of the state’s red flag laws to remove weapons from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin in filing this amicus brief. A copy of the brief can be found here. 

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