The Right to Bear Arms and 18-to-20-Year-Olds

A Fifth Circuit nonprecedential decision yesterday involved a challenge to the federal limits on 18-to-20-year-olds’ acquisition of handguns, but didn’t need to reach the Second Amendment question:

Defendant-Appellant Cantrell Bledsoe appeals her conviction after pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to make knowing, false, material representations to a federally-licensed gun dealer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and § 922(a)(6). For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM.

Bledsoe admits to paying a third party to purchase her a handgun from a federally-licensed seller. That third party falsely stated that he was the “actual buyer” of the weapon, thus violating § 922(a)(6). Bledsoe further admits to conspiring with this third party to make these false statements, thus violating § 371.

Bledsoe, who was nineteen at the time of the purchase, argues that the proscription in § 922(b)(1) on the sale of handguns by federally-licensed dealers to people under twenty-one violates her Second Amendment individual right to keep and bear arms, as recently recognized in District of Columbia v. Heller, 555
U.S. —-, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 2822 (2008). Bledsoe further argues that the overall age scheme in § 922 violates the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

We do not need to reach the substance of Bledsoe’s arguments. Bledsoe is not being charged with violating § 922(b)(1), but of conspiring to make a false material statement in the purchase of a firearm, which she admitted doing. The Supreme Court has stated that “a claim of unconstitutionality will not be heard to excuse a voluntary, deliberate and calculated course of fraud and deceit. One who elects such a course as a means of self-help may not escape the consequences by urging that [her] conduct be excused because the statute which [s]he sought to evade is unconstitutional.” Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855, 867, 86 S. Ct. 1840, 1847 (1966). Indeed, even assuming the Government could not constitutionally prohibit Bledsoe from purchasing a firearm, “it cannot be thought that as a general principle of our law a citizen has a privilege to answer fraudulently a question that the Government should not have asked.” Bryson v. United States, 396 U.S. 64, 72, 90 S. Ct. 355, 360 (1969). “Our legal system provides methods for challenging the Government’s right to ask questions – lying is not one of them.” Id. (footnote omitted).

Sounds right to me. For my thoughts on the Second Amendment question raised by restrictions on 18-to-20-year-olds, see my UCLA Law Review “Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-defense” article, PDF pp. 66-71.