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Fourth Circuit Decision Affirming Second Amendment Rights of 18-20 Year Olds Vacated as Moot

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Gun Rights

Jonathan H. Adler | 9.22.2021 5:51 PM

In July, in Hirschfeld v. ATF, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the right to keep and bear arms enshrined in the Second Amendment applies to 18-20 year olds. Observers expected the Fourth Circuit might rehear the case en banc. Instead the decision has been vacated as moot, as none of the plaintiffs are 18-to-20-years old anymore. [Here are prior posts on the case from me and Eugene.]

Judge Richardson wrote a brief opinion for the court explaining the dismissal, joined by Judge Agee. He writes:

Plaintiff Natalia Marshall, while under the age of 21, wished to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed firearms dealer and sued to challenge the constitutionality of the federal laws and regulations which prohibited her from doing so while she was 18–20 years old. A divided panel of this court found those laws violated the text, structure, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment. After the opinion issued but before the mandate, Marshall turned 21. And that made her claims moot. Despite efforts to add parties and reframe her claimed injuries, it is too late to revive this case. So it must be dismissed as moot.

Once a case is rendered moot on appeal, we customarily vacate the opinions and remand with direction to dismiss. See United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36, 39–40 (1950); . . . After weighing the equities, we follow that custom here.

I. This case is moot

We, of course, have only the power to adjudicate "Cases" and "Controversies." U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. A "Case" or "Controversy" under Article III no longer exists "when the issues presented are no longer 'live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." . . . The case is instead moot and must be dismissed, "[n]o matter how vehemently the parties continue to dispute the lawfulness of the conduct that precipitated the lawsuit." . . . Here, Marshall challenged the prohibition on buying a handgun from a federally licensed firearms dealer while she was under 21. Once she turned 21, nothing prohibited her from buying........

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