Banning law-abiding young adults from buying firearms is likely unconstitutional, a federal judge has ruled.
Chief U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer, a George W. Bush appointee, issued a preliminary injunction Monday against Colorado’s new ban on gun sales for adults under the age of 21. He did so after finding that the country’s historical tradition of gun laws did not support denying 18-20-year-olds legal access to firearms, as required under the Supreme Court’s precedent in 2022’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.
“The Court finds that the Governor has failed to meet his burden to demonstrate that SB23-169 is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation,” Judge Brimmer wrote in his opinion in the case RMGO v. Polis. “For the purpose of obtaining a preliminary injunction, the Individual Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits.”
The ruling pours cold water on some aspirations of gun-control advocates in the Centennial State, who are fresh off of a legislative session that saw more gun restrictions pass than any year in the state’s recent history. The injunction blocks the state’s attempt to raise the legal age for firearms purchases on the same day it was set to take effect.
It also comes as age-based restrictions on firearms ownership and public carry have come under increased legal scrutiny. In recent years, federal judges in Tennessee, Texas, and Minnesota have all ruled against state laws prohibiting gun carry by 18-to-20-year-olds. Likewise, a judge in Virginia tossed the state’s ban on handgun sales to the same group. Meanwhile, the federal appellate courts have been divided over the issue, with two circuit decisions before Bruen ruling against bans on selling various types of firearms to the same age group and an Eleventh Circuit decision after Bruen upholding Florida’s young adult sales ban.
Gun-rights advocates cheered Monday’s ruling. Plaintiffs Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) said the injunction confirmed its view of the law.
“Since the day this legislation was introduced, we knew it was unconstitutional,” Taylor Rhodes, the group’s Executive Director, said in a statement. “Under the Gold Dome, at the unveiling of this proposal, RMGO warned the bill sponsors this would quickly be struck down by a federal judge. Today, our crystal ball became a reality.”
Monday’s injunction centered on whether law-abiding 18-to-20-year-olds are considered part of “The People” protected by the Second Amendment and whether that protection includes the right to acquire firearms. The government of Colorado attempted to argue they were considered minors with limited legal protections at the time of the founding. It also alleged that the Second Amendment only protects possessing and carrying firearms, not the commercial acquisition of weapons.
Judge Brimmer dismissed those arguments based on findings in previous Second Amendment cases in other courts.
“The Court is persuaded by the reasoning in Range and McCraw that an interpretation of ‘the people’ in the Second Amendment should begin with the assumption that every American is included,” he wrote.
“Several courts have ruled that the right to keep arms necessarily includes a right to acquire arms,” he added. “The court agrees with the individual plaintiffs that the Second Amendment includes the right to acquire firearms and, therefore, protects the individual plaintiffs’ proposed conduct.”
Brimmer then examined historical laws at the time of the founding to determine if there were any analogues to a modern-day sales ban for all young adults. The government of Colorado suggested that colonial-era laws that disarmed certain groups perceived to be dangerous, such as rebels and those who did not swear loyalty oaths, could be a close fit for Colorado’s ban. Again, Judge Brimmer rejected Colorado’s arguments as “far too broad” to pass constitutional muster.
“Colonial laws that disarmed persons who presented a risk of danger to the state or to the country are not analogous to a categorical ban on a segment of society that has not professed hostility to the state or to the nation. And any such analogy would be ‘far too broad.'” he wrote. “Thus, the Court finds that the Governor has not identified founding era gun laws that are analogous to SB23-169.”
The injunction will block Colorado from enforcing its sales ban until a final ruling has been reached on the merits or an appeals court reverses the decision.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ (D.) office did not respond to a request for comment.