The Second Amendment and 18-to-20-Year-Olds

From Third Circuit Judge Cheryl Krause’s dissent from denial of rehearing en banc yesterday in Lara v. Commissioner; Judges Shwartz, Restrepo, Freeman, Montgomery-Reeves, and Chung also voted to rehear the case en banc, but didn’t write an opinion or join Judge Krause’s:

When they ratified the Second Amendment, our Founders did not intend to bind the nation in a straitjacket of 18th-century legislation, nor did they mean to prevent future generations from protecting themselves against gun violence more rampant and destructive than the Founders could have possibly imagined. At a minimum, one would think that the states’ understanding of the Second Amendment at the time of the “Second Founding”—the moment in 1868 when they incorporated the Bill of Rights against themselves—is part of “the Nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation” informing the constitutionality of modern-day regulations.

Indeed, since the Supreme Court tethered their constitutionality to the existence of historical precedent in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), we and the other Courts of Appeals have consistently looked to Reconstruction-era, as well as Founding-era sources, and, even as the Supreme Court has acknowledged the “ongoing scholarly debate” about their relevance, it too has relied on Reconstruction-era sources in each of its recent major opinions on the right to bear arms. Notably, the Supreme Court is expected within the next few months, if not weeks, to issue its next seminal opinion, clarifying its historical methodology in the absence of Founding-era analogues.

Yet despite our own precedent acknowledging the relevance of Reconstruction-era sources, our recognition in an en banc opinion just last year that the Supreme Court relies on both Founding-era and Reconstruction-era sources, and an imminent decision from the Supreme Court that may prove dispositive to this case, the panel majority here announced— over Judge Restrepo’s compelling dissent—that all historical sources after 1791 are irrelevant to our Nation’s historical tradition and must be “set aside” when seeking out the “historical analogues” required to uphold a modern-day gun regulations. The panel majority then held—based exclusively on 18th-century militia laws and without regard to the voluminous support the statutory scheme finds in 19th-century analogues—that Pennsylvania’s prohibition on 18-to-20-year-old youth carrying firearms in public during statewide emergencies is unconstitutional.

The panel majority was incorrect, but more importantly, it erred profoundly in the methodology to which it purports to bind this entire Court and with far-reaching consequences. Against this backdrop, we should be granting Pennsylvania’s

petition for en banc review, supported by 17 other states and the District of Columbia as amici, or at least holding it c.a.v. pending the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Rahimi. But instead, over the objection of nearly half our Court, we are denying it outright.

I respectfully dissent from that denial for four reasons. First, without en banc review, the panel majority’s pronouncement cannot bind future panels of this Court. We have held Reconstruction-era sources to be relevant in decisions both before and after Bruen so, under our case law and our Internal Operating Procedures, en banc rehearing is necessary before any subsequent panel can bind our Court to a contrary position. Second, en banc review would allow us to apply the proper historical methodology, which would compel a different outcome in this case. Third, en banc review is necessary for error correction: Even if we limit ourselves to Founding-era sources, the panel failed to recognize that legislatures in that era were authorized to categorically disarm groups they reasonably judged to pose a particular risk of danger, and Pennsylvania’s modern-day judgment that youth under the age of 21 pose such a risk is well supported by evidence subject to judicial notice. And fourth, the majority’s narrow focus on the Founding era demands rehearing because it ignores the Supreme Court’s recognition that “cases implicating unprecedented societal concerns or dramatic technological changes may require a more nuanced approach.” For each of these reasons, discussed in turn below, en banc review should be granted….

The entire dissenting opinion is much worth reading, as is the panel majority opinion that held that 18-to-20-year-olds are protected by the Second Amendment; an excerpt:

Through the combined operation of three statutes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania effectively bans 18-to-20-year-olds from carrying firearms outside their homes during a state of emergency. Madison Lara, Sophia Knepley, and Logan Miller, who were in that age range when they filed this suit, want to carry firearms outside their homes for lawful purposes, including self-defense…. The words “the people” in the Second Amendment presumptively encompass all adult Americans, including 18-to-20-year-olds, and we are aware of no founding-era law that supports disarming people in that age group. Accordingly, we will reverse and remand….

The Commissioner … [argues] that, “[a]t the time of the Founding—and, indeed, for most of the Nation’s history—those who were under the age of 21 were considered ‘infants’ or ‘minors’ in the eyes of the law[,]” “mean[ing] that they had few independent legal rights.” True enough, from before the founding and through Reconstruction, those under the age of 21 were considered minors.

Notwithstanding the legal status of 18-to-21-year-olds during that period, however, the Commissioner’s position is untenable for three reasons. First, it supposes that the first step of a Bruen analysis requires excluding individuals from “the people” if they were so excluded at the founding. That argument conflates Bruen‘s two distinct analytical steps. Although the government is tasked with identifying a historical analogue at the second step of the Bruen analysis, we are not limited to looking through that same retrospective lens at the first step. If, at step one, we were rigidly limited by eighteenth century conceptual boundaries, “the people” would consist of white, landed men, and that is obviously not the state of the law.

Second, it does not follow that, just because individuals under the age of 21 lacked certain legal rights at the founding, they were ex ante excluded from the scope of “the people.” As then-Judge Barrett explained, “[n]either felons nor the mentally ill are categorically excluded from our national community.” But “[t]hat does not mean that the government cannot prevent them from possessing guns. Instead, it means that the question is whether the government has the power to disable the exercise of a right that they otherwise possess.”

Third, consistency has a claim on us. It is undisputed that 18-to-20-year-olds are among “the people” for other constitutional rights such as the right to vote, freedom of speech, peaceable assembly, government petitions, and the right against unreasonable government searches and seizures…. [W]holesale exclusion of 18-to-20-year-olds from the scope of the Second Amendment would impermissibly render “the constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense … ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.'”

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