Once again, the United States Constitution has gone entirely ignored in the Big Government pursuit of arbitrary, unequal application of the law. Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in National Rifle Association [NRA] v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, et al that American citizens younger than 21 years can be legally banned from purchasing handguns, pursuant to the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 and subsequent United States Code.
The NRA correctly challenged that the current ban on such sales violates both the Second Amendment’s Infringement Clause and the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection purpose. The 5th Circuit disagreed, and did so on largely semantic and conjectural grounds. Even if one agrees with the questionable logic the court exercised, there remains an undeniable double-standard associated with codified age of maturity laws in the United States in this and other contexts.
The court opined that a central problem which the GCA seeks to address is “young persons under 21, who are immature and prone to violence, easily accessing handguns, which facilitate violent crime, primarily by way of [Federal Firearms Licensees]…” (emphasis in original). Further, the court insisted that “age is not a suspect classification” as it relates to equal protection of the law. There are a number of logical fallacies committed in reaching this overall conclusion:
1. The Congress, in its lawmaking duties, is not medically or otherwise qualified, constitutionally empowered, or ethically just in predetermining who in society is at risk to behave irresponsibly or maliciously in any capacity, based on unsubstantiated superficial states of being such as age. Preemptive legislative assessments can only legitimately be carried out based on previous actions, decisions, or case-by-case evaluations, such as with convicted felons or professionally-diagnosed mentally ill persons.
2. If we, as a society, agree to acquiesce to such collective risk assessments as a basis for broad legal restrictions on individual rights, then why would age be the only category for which we do this? Why not include other immaterial superficial states of being as well such as sex, race, color, and creed? If a twenty-year-old can legitimately be deemed “prone to violence” then why not legislatively assert that blacks or men are as well? Both assertions have the same degree of empirical scientific support at their core, which is to say none at all.
3. If eighteen- to twenty-year-olds are naturally “irresponsible,” then should they concurrently be allowed to vote? Certainly voting is a powerful right that is not devoid of significant consequences or immune to irresponsibility in its application. Voting indirectly contributes to violence by facilitating war, military interventionism, property confiscation, and violence-backed law enforcement policies among others. Additionally, if the said age group is so reckless then why are they permitted to drive a full five years prior to being eligible for a handgun purchase? This contradiction is particularly perplexing – if indeed paternalistic laws are truly necessary and proper for the general welfare – given that automobile-related incidents account for the highest mortality rate among the age group in question, and in fact for many more outside of this range. And what about sex? Should members of the age group be restricted in their access to the opposite sex simply because they might irresponsibly use their respective reproductive assets (does this happen?)? Imagine for a moment if certain words in the aforementioned ruling were substituted as follows: “…young persons under 21, who are immature and prone to hormones, easily accessing the opposite sex, which facilitate unplanned pregnancies, primarily by way of sex…” Naturally there is a wide range of debate as to what constitutes consensus toward what an appropriate age of maturity should be but to deny that glaring inconsistencies exist that approach arbitrary discrimination is the height of naivety.
4. Handguns may facilitate some violent crime but it is the violent act itself that must be punished by law if the Equal Protection Clause, and in fact individual rights themselves, are to mean anything at all. Violent tendencies are the result of individual choices and decisions and the handgun itself cannot be realistically blamed for subsequent actions that follow (oh how history would be different if this were not the case!). The following is a partial list of things which also facilitate violent crime that the age group in question currently have generally unrestricted access to: automobiles, cell phones, computers, weapons of various other types (including long guns and edged and blunt weapons), and their own body parts.
This ruling is unfortunately not altogether surprising, despite its asinine reasoning. If one wishes to find completely inconsistent, arbitrary, factually and historically inappropriate examples of constitutional interpretation, one has traditionally needed to go no further than the United States Court of Appeals. There is, of course, no guarantee that the Supreme Court will rule correctly in this case but there is every reason to believe that this case will one day see its halls.