The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

18-to-20-Year-Olds Have a Right to Buy Handguns

So holds a Virginia state judge under the Virginia Constitution, concluding that the Virginia background check requirement for private sales therefore can't be applied to 18-to-20-year-olds.


Federal law bans professional gun dealers from selling handguns to 18-to-20-year-olds, but doesn't ban 18-to-20-year-olds from buying handguns from nonprofessional sellers (so-called "private sales"). That's one effect of Congress's decision not to mandate background checks for private sales. As a result, 18-to-20-year-olds are practically able to buy handguns, though they have fewer choices and have to go through more of a hassle.

Virginia law does mandate that all gun sales go through dealers, and thus be subject to a background check, which 18-to-20-year-olds can't pass; as a result, 18-to-20-year-olds in Virginia can no longer buy handguns. That, Judge F. Patrick Yeatts held today (in Elhert v. Settle), is likely unconstitutional: Though governments has have historically been able to restrict gun sales to minors, the age of majority is now 18 in Virginia (though it was largely 21 throughout the U.S. until about 1970), so 18-to-20-year-olds are fully protected by the Virginia Constitution's right to bear arms provision. Because of this, Judge Yeatts temporarily blocked the enforcement of the law against 18-to-20-year-olds (though I expect the state will appeal).

For more on this question generally, see this post by David Kopel and this post of mine.