Herring successfully defends federal gun law

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The Fourth Circuit has vacated a panel decision striking down a longstanding federal gun violence prevention law that limits the sale of handguns to those age 21 and older.

In an amicus brief filed by Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, the attorneys general said they believed that a 2-1 panel decision by the Fourth Circuit had issued a legally incorrect ruling overturning the more than 50-year-old law, and supported the Biden administration’s request that the panel decision be reconsidered.

“From the outset, we believed that the panel had gotten this one wrong, and I’m glad that the Fourth Circuit has now vacated that decision upon finding the case is moot,” Herring said. “Handguns are too often the weapon of choice for dangerous individuals who may want to harm themselves, an intimate partner, or even commit a crime. With this decision, this constitutional, longstanding gun safety law that has kept Virginians and our communities safe for decades will remain on the books.

In their amicus brief filed earlier this month, Herring and Frosh explain the importance of upholding this federal law by saying, “[m]ore than a thousand Virginians and more than 750 Marylanders are killed each year by gunfire…Throughout both states, families and communities know the pain of firearms-related suicides, accidental fatal shootings, mass shootings, and interpersonal, workplace, or intimate-partner violence that claim lives in urban, suburban, and rural communities…The challenged laws…have helped prevent gun violence for over half a century and remain an important part of the federal and state gun laws on which Virginia and Maryland rely in keeping their citizens safe.”

Additionally, in the brief, Herring and Frosh noted their concern over the fact that this panel struck down this longstanding law by relying on arcane militia law and emphasizing militia involvement as part of the Second Amendment.

The attorneys general argued:

  • The militia minimum age was not fixed at age 18 and has changed frequently over time. Historically in Virginia and Maryland 21 was considered the age of majority and legislatures often altered the minimum age for militia service.
  • Militias have been a source of exclusion and social dysfunction. Historically, the militia harmed Black Americans and other minority groups and in recent history paramilitary groups have claimed the mantle of “militia” in ways that threaten civil governance.
  • The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms cannot be equated with the historic obligation to serve in the militia.

 


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