A federal judge in Texas has thrown out the state’s ban on people aged 18 to 20 carrying handguns in what appears to be the first major judicial decision since a landmark ruling on weapons rights by the US supreme court in June.
The challenge to the Texas statute that bans young adults not in active military service from having handguns in public was filed in 2021 by the Firearms Policy Coalition, a gun owners’ rights group. The group said the ban violated the US constitution’s second amendment, which says states can organize militias and that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.
In June, the US supreme court ruled for the first time that the second amendment guaranteed an individual right to carry weapons in public for self-defense. The decision also ordered the federal judiciary to apply a “history-only” test when considering challenges to weapons regulations, saying a regulation was constitutional only if it was similar to those around in the 18th century when the second amendment was ratified.
Judge Mark Pittman of the US district court in Fort Worth ruled on Thursday that there was no historical tradition of stopping young adults from carrying guns in public in an opinion that repeatedly cited the new supreme court ruling.
The judge suspended his ruling for 30 days to allow Texas to file an appeal.
In finding the ban unconstitutional, Pittman wrote that “the undisputed historical evidence establishes that 18-to-20-year-olds were understood to be a part of the militia in the founding era”.
Lawyers from the Texas attorney general’s office had unsuccessfully argued that there was a historical basis for determining who could carry guns based on age.
The age restriction applied only to the carrying of handguns; long guns can be bought in Texas once a person turns 18, as was the case with the 18-year-old shooter who used a semi-automatic rifle to attack a school in Uvalde, Texas, in May, killing 19 children and two teachers.
There was no immediate comment from the office of the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, or the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, both Republicans.
Last year, Abbott signed a law that meant Texans aged over 21 no longer had to get a license or undergo a background check or training to carry a handgun.
Democratic leaders across the US have decried the supreme court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen for making it much more difficult to regulate guns in a country where mass shootings are recurrent.
The Firearms Policy Coalition said it was challenging similar restrictions on young adults carrying guns in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Illinois, Minnesota, California and Georgia.
Cody Wisniewski, a senior attorney for the group, said in a statement: “This decision is a significant victory for the rights of young adults in Texas and demonstrates for the rest of the nation that similar bans cannot withstand constitutional challenges grounded in history.”