In Court: Amish Buggies, Youth Gun Bans, and Anti-Islam Bus Ads

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Nov. 1 2012 12:24 PM

Amish Buggies, Youth Gun Bans, and Anti-Islam Bus Ads

Slate’s pick-of-the-month court rulings—a new feature.

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Fighting for its ads in the courts is not a new tactic for AFDI. The group is also responsible for the controversial subway ads calling Jihad “savage” in New York City this September, which the group was able to place only after obtaining a federal court order ruling that the Metropolitan Transit Authority could not constitutionally decline to run them. AFDI got its way in that case because the MTA had accepted political ads in the past.

The Sixth Circuit’s ruling last week wasn’t final, and the case will now return to the district court for a full trial. In an email to the Wall Street Journal, Pamela Geller promised to ask the district court to “engage in aggressive discovery to demonstrate on a complete record that SMART’s speech restriction was arbitrary and ultimately unconstitutional.”

 

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Selling Guns to Teenagers

A federal court of appeals has upheld a federal law banning the commercial sale of handguns to 18-to-20-year-olds. The ban is old—it was passed in 1968 as part of an omnibus crime control act—but the National Rifle Association, together with several Texans between the ages of 18 and 20, hoped it had a new basis for persuading the courts to strike it down: The Supreme Court’s 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, which ruled that banning handgun possession in the home violates the right to “keep and bear arms” under the Second Amendment.

Last week’s rejection of the NRA’s challenge, by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit, emphasized that the Second Amendment right to bear arms has important limits, even after Heller. Prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, for example, are long-standing regulations that the Supreme Court gave a nod of approval to in Heller. The Fifth Circuit said it mattered, too, that the youth ban isn’t sweeping: 18-to-20-year-olds may still possess and use handguns they get from a parent or guardian.

The court also pointed out that the concept of gun control extends back to the colonies, including founding-era regulations that disarmed specific groups of people, such as Loyalists (colonists allied with the British), for public safety reasons. These restrictions were tied to the notion of “civic virtue,” which at the time children were thought incapable of possessing. If the founders believed only “virtuous” citizens should be armed, the Fifth Circuit reasoned, they probably would have agreed that stricter rules should apply to minors.

Today we don’t use the word virtue when we talk about the right to buy a gun, but the underlying idea has not disappeared—Heller discusses the rights of “law-abiding, responsible citizens.” And the 1968 regulation is an expression of Congress’ skepticism that 18-to-20-year-olds fall into that category (sorry, youth). The legislation was passed after a lengthy investigation, which found that minors tend to be irresponsible and prone to rash behavior—a dangerous cocktail when combined with easy access to handguns. Indeed, 18-to-20-year-olds account for nearly 20 percent of all arrests for murder and non-negligent manslaughter, even though they make up only 4.3 percent of the population. They are often victims, too: a teenager today is more likely to die of a gunshot wound than of all natural causes.

After the suit was filed, the Facebook page of one of the plaintiffs from Texas, James D’Cruz, drew criticism for containing disturbingly violent messages. An editorial by the executive director of the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence compared the page to the writings of the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters, calling D’Cruz “a poster boy for why we should prevent handgun sales to those under 21 years of age.”

The NRA says it is considering an appeal, though the unanimity of the three judges—two of whom were appointed by President George W. Bush—suggests an uphill battle.

Ryan McCartney, Katie Mesner-Hage, and Skye Nickalls are students at Yale Law School.

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