Last week Judge Patrick Yeatts of the Lynchburg Circuit Court in Virginia struck down part of the state's new universal background check law, which had only gone into effect on July 1st. The law required background checks for all private firearms sales in the Commonwealth, and the state had argued this new regulation closed the so-called "gun show loophole."
The law was met by resistance from supporters of the Second Amendment, who claimed the law was unconstitutional under the Virginia Constitution. In a case brought by Gun Owners of America and Virginia Citizens Defense League, the groups argued that under Virginia law, those eighteen to twenty-years of age could purchase handguns in private sales.
However, under federal law, firearms dealers are expressly prohibited from transferring handguns to anyone under the age of 21. Attorneys for GOA and VCDL argued that the law requires all transfers to go through a licensed dealer and, as a result, it became impossible for anyone under the age of 21 to legally acquire a handgun in the Old Dominion State. The groups had called the law a de facto ban on handgun purchases by law-abiding adults who are under the age of twenty-one.
Virginia's Attorney General's Office tried to make the case that the issue was, in fact, with federal law and not state law that determines the age to buy a handgun. The AG suggested the prohibition was one that was, in essence, a "NICS technical issue," but the pro-Second Amendment groups countered that by removing the means for someone under twenty-one to receive a handgun did violate the state's constitution.
In his ruling, Judge Yeatts agreed the law did actually violate the rights of those under twenty-one from acquiring a handgun since the age of adulthood in the Commonwealth is eighteen.
"Although the Act is facially constitutional," Yeatts wrote in his opinion, "the Commonwealth is currently unprepared to administer it in a way that does not infringe on the right of adults under 21 to purchase a handgun, the 'quintessential self-defense weapon.'"
Judge Yeatts further issued an emergency injunction for the plaintiffs.
As a result, those under twenty-one will be exempt from universal background checks on handguns.
"While keeping in mind that today's ruling is on the temporary injunction – and not the case as a whole – there is much to celebrate in today's decision," said Erich Pratt, executive vice president of Gun Owners of America. "The court's opinion provides one of the most comprehensive rejections of balancing tests that we have seen in courts throughout the country. The opinion dismantles the Commonwealth's legal arguments piece by piece, rejecting the idea that judges can use a 'sliding-scale framework' and can jiggle empirical arguments in a way that overrides constitutionally-protected rights."
It is likely that the state's AG will appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, which could reverse Judge Yeatts' decision or knock the law entirely.
"Universal background check systems only work if they are truly universal, and we believe this potentially dangerous judicially created loophole is without basis in the law," Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. "So while the judge agreed with nearly all of our arguments and largely upheld the law, we believe that this injunction, though limited and narrow, is worthy of higher review and I intend to appeal it as soon as possible."
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.