Lost amidst the clamor for universal back ground checks are a lot of important details. One of those details, besides the issues of who will pay for universal background checks, and how will such checks be precluded from turning into a registration scheme, is the fact that simply making firearm background checks “universal” would have to effect of denying the right of 18-20 year olds to own a handgun, even in their home.
In 2008 the US Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment “guarantee[s] the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” At issue in Heller was the District of Columbia’s statute which forbid the keeping of handguns at home, and the Court said that
“the American people have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon. There are many reasons that a citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upper-body strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police. Whatever the reason, handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.”
So how in the heck would the introduction of “universal background checks” strip 18-21 20 year olds of their constitutional right to own a handgun in their home? That’s easy – because believe it or not, the Gun Control Act of 1968 requires 18-20 year olds to buy handguns privately.
Specifically, 18 USC 922(b) provides that
“[i]t shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector to sell or deliver—
(1) any firearm or ammunition to any individual who the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than eighteen years of age, and, if the firearm, or ammunition is other than a shotgun or rifle, or ammunition for a shotgun or rifle, to any individual who the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than twenty-one years of age." [emphasis added].
So currently, as weird as it sounds, 18-20 year olds are banned from buying guns via background checks at gun dealerships – even if they want to go through a background check. As a result, private sales, without background checks, are these citizens’ only legal alternative.
A lawsuit brought by the NRA sought to overturn this ban on background checks, but in October 2012 the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifith Circuit upheld the background check ban in part on the grounds that
Handgun ownership by young adults is common. Almost all states allow 18-20 year olds the right to possess handguns at home. Moreover, 35 states allow persons under 21 to open carry loaded handguns in public, and 29 of these states require no license to do so.
Philip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League warns that “this push for ‘universal background checks’ is just a Trojan Horse effort to restrict Second Amendment rights. At 18 you can vote and you can fight for your country. It would be unthinkable to make it so they don't have their Second Amendment rights as well.”
If these politicians “are truly honest about their motives, they would show us the language in the bill” that will ensure 18-20 years olds can buy handguns through background checks too, added Van Cleave.