A Lynchburg judge mostly upheld a new state law that went into effect at the beginning of the month expanding background checks for purchasing firearms, but ruled that restrictions on those under 21 from purchasing handguns was unconstitutional.
Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge Patrick Yeatts agreed with much of the commonwealth’s arguments that the law, which expands background checks to all gun sales, did not violate the Virginia Constitution. He granted an injunction Tuesday on part of the law, which he said was currently unconstitutional, that narrowed the sale of handguns for people between the ages of 18 to 20.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, other gun rights groups, and Lynchburg area gun owners argued in the lawsuit that the proposal would restrict the ability of those ages 18 to 20 from purchasing handguns in Virginia because all private sales will have to be run through a federally licensed firearms dealer.
Federal law says that individuals must be 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer. So if someone under 21 were to obtain a background check through the FBI’s system, that person would be rejected.
Prior to the new law, those between 18 to 20 could buy a handgun through a private sale from another Virginia resident, but not from a dealer.
One of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, Wyatt Lowman, is legally an adult but under 21.
Yeatts wrote in his ruling that the commonwealth acknowledged the law would prevent those under 21 from purchasing handguns, but it “deflects by saying the problem lies with federal law.” The attorney general said in court it was working with the FBI to correct the issue.
Yeatts wrote in his ruling that Virginia can’t shift its constitutional problem onto federal law or federal systems.
“Although the act is facially constitutional, 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,’ ’’ Yeatts wrote in his ruling.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, said he intends to appeal that part of the ruling. The judge encouraged the attorney general not to enforce the part he ruled as unconstitutional.
“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,” Herring wrote 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.”
As the proposal moved through the General Assembly earlier this year, legislators mostly focused on whether to include firearm transfers as subject to background checks. Transfers ultimately didn’t make it into the final legislation.
However, the part of the legislation that restricted handgun purchases for 18- to 20-year-old people didn’t appear to catch the attention of Republicans, who spent a good deal of the General Assembly session pushing back on gun control proposals from Democrats.
The complainants argued the General Assembly and Democratic governor surreptitiously incorporated that element into the legislation.
The attorney general’s office won a lawsuit last month regarding the reinstatement of a cap on handgun purchases to one a month.
People with concealed handgun permits would be excluded from this, which is intended to clamp down on the illegal flow of firearms to the northeast by straw purchases in Virginia.
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