May 19, 2022 – In a 2-1 decision issued last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California that had upheld a California statute banning the sale of center-fire, semi-automatic rifles to residents less than 21 years old.  This statute went into effect in 2021 and built upon prior gun control legislation that required individuals less than 21 years of age to first obtain a hunting license before they would be allowed to purchase rifles and shotguns (long guns). The 2021 statute banned all sales of semi-automatic rifles to anyone less than 21 years of age, regardless of whether they obtained a hunting license, with the only exceptions being for active members of law enforcement or the military.
Plaintiffs challenged both the original hunting license requirement for long gun purchases, as well as the prohibition on the sale of semi-automatic rifles, on the basis that these statutes violated the Second Amendment.  The district court denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of both statutes.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision as to the hunting permit requirement for long gun purchases by those less than 21 years of age, finding that it was a “sensible” and constitutional gun control measure that did not place undue burdens on individuals seeking to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
The Court of Appeals, however, held that the district court erred by declining to enjoin enforcement of the 2021 statute, which amounted to an “almost total ban on semiautomatic” rifles for young adults. Reflecting on the history of firearms in the United States, Judge Ryan Nelson wrote, “America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army,” and noted that the Second Amendment protects “the right of young adults to keep and bear arms.” In distinguishing the ban from the hunting permit requirement, Judge Nelson noted that “[i]t’s one thing to say that young adults must take a course and purchase a hunting license before obtaining certain firearms.  But to say that they must become police officers or join the military? … It is a blanket ban for everyone except police officers and service members.”  U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein from the Southern District of New York, sitting by designation, stated in a dissenting opinion that he would have upheld the lower court’s decision not to enjoin either law and found that the legislation did not place a “severe burden” on gun ownership rights for young adults because they were still permitted to legally obtain semi-automatic rifles from family members, or borrow them from others.
California has already requested and received an extension until July 25, 2022 to file a petition for rehearing or rehearing en banc.  Based on prior Second Amendment decisions issued by panels of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, there is a good chance that this case will eventually be reheard en banc.
Renzulli Law Firm will continue to monitor this case and other Second Amendment challenges to state gun control legislation.  If you have any questions about this case or the Second Amendment, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.