Pennsylvania can’t stop young adults from openly carrying guns during emergencies, U.S. court rules

The 3rd U.S. Circuit judges, in a 2-1 decision found that 18- to 20-year-olds enjoy the same Second Amendment rights as other citizens, just as they do the right to vote.

A closeup of a protester's open carry gun

A gun rights advocate gathers with others for an annual rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Young adults in Pennsylvania cannot be arrested for openly carrying guns in public during a declared state of emergency, at least while a court fight over the issue plays out, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit judges, in a 2-1 decision, relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s influential so-called Bruen decision to find that 18- to 20-year-olds enjoy the same Second Amendment rights as other citizens, just as they do the right to vote.

The panel meanwhile revived the lawsuit that challenges the Pennsylvania ban, which a district judge had dismissed.

“We understand that a reasonable debate can be had over allowing young adults to be armed, but the issue before us is a narrow one,” U.S. Circuit Court Judge Kent A. Jordan wrote. “Our question is whether the (state police) commissioner has borne his burden of proving that evidence of founding-era regulations supports Pennsylvania’s restriction on 18-to-20- year-olds’ Second Amendment rights, and the answer to that is no.”

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The case is one of many filed around the country by gun rights groups that seek to chip away at gun control measures passed by state and local lawmakers.

The Bruen decision said that judges, to uphold the bans, must look to the nation’s history and tradition when evaluating gun control measures. Courts have since struck down restrictions involving domestic abusersnonviolent felons, marijuana users and others.

U.S. Circuit Judge Felipe Restrepo, in a dissent, said he did not believe the 19th century founding fathers considered people under 21 to have full legal rights.

The Firearms Policy Coalition, which represents the plaintiffs in the case, said “it would be a deep perversion of the Constitution” to exclude young adults from Second Amendment protections. The group has supported challenges to gun bans involving assault weapons, places of worship and other laws across the country.

“We applaud the Third Circuit’s decision in this case confirming that 18-to-20-year-old adults have the same right to armed self-defense as any other adult,” Cody J. Wisniewski, the group’s vice president and general counsel, said in a statement.

Pennsylvania State Police declined to comment on the ruling Thursday.

A lawyer for gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety called the ruling “misguided” and said it could cost lives.

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“Research shows us that 18- to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at triple the rate of adults over the age of 21 and Pennsylvania’s law has been an essential tool in preventing gun violence,” said Janet Carter, a senior director at Everytown Law. “This ruling must be reversed.”

Pennsylvanians must still be 21 to apply for a concealed carry permit. Those permit holders can carry guns during a state of emergency, such as those declared during the COVID-19 pandemic or life-threatening storms. Pennsylvania law now limits such emergency orders to 21 days, although they can be extended.

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