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Making It Harder for Teens to Get Guns Isn't Unconstitutional

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 17, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you want to possess a firearm in Illinois, you need a Firearm Owners Identification card, or FOID. FOIDs aren't hard to get. A driver's license, recent photograph, and $10 are all that's required of most applicants. But if you're between the ages of 18 and 20, you'll also need a parent's consent. If mom and dad won't sign off, you have to jump through a few administrative hoops.

That extra hassle for teens who want guns isn't unconstitutional, the Seventh Circuit ruled on Monday.

Your Application Is Null and FOID

When Tempest Horsley turned 18, she wanted what all teenage girls want: a gun. Her parents, however, refused to sign her application for a FOID. Under the Illinois law, created in 1968, anyone under 21 years old can apply for a FOID with a parent or legal guardian sponsor. If the parent refuses to provide written consent, minor applicants can appeal to the Director of the Illinois State Police for review of their application. The director can then approve the application if the young applicant isn't a recent felon and will not "likely act in a manner dangerous to public safety."

Horsley said "nay" to that review, however. Instead, she sued, alleging that the FOID scheme violated her Second Amendment rights. In her complaint, Horsely argued that she simply wanted fire arms for self defense, following, and we quote, "the suggestion of Vice President Biden." That's a reference to a February, 2013, comment by the Vice President that "if you want to protect yourself, get a double barreled shotgun."

There's Nothing Wrong With a Little Red Tape

The Seventh Circuit was unmoved by Horsley's arguments. The Illinois law "does not impose a categorical ban" on teenage firearm possession, the court noted in a brief, unanimous 3-judge opinion authored by Judge Ann Williams. Simply having a different procedure for 18-to-20-year-old gun owners does not violate the Second Amendment, the court found.

Illinois had argued that the Second Amendment did not create a right to possess firearms for those under 21. The court declined to rule on the issue, but seemed to indicate that it wasn't averse to the idea. Heller states that the Second Amendment codified a "pre-existing right," the Seventh noted. During the founding era, anyone under 21 was generally considered a minor.

But whether people under 21 are within the scope of the Second Amendment doesn't matter, the Seventh found, since even if they are, the FOID system would not violate their rights. It is not a "blanket provision" requiring parental consent like the kinds the Supreme Court has struck down in the abortion context. Nor is it a "severe burden" on Second Amendment rights, since it leaves open "ample alternative channels" to firearms ownership.

The Seventh ended by apply a quick "means-ends scrutiny" test to the FOID system. Requiring parental sign-off serves a "legitimate and compelling state interest," the court found, by protect the public. 18-to-20 year olds, the court noted, were disproportionately responsible for violent crimes, being responsible for 15.8 percent of all murder and non-negligent manslaughter charges, while making up only four percent of the population.

Horsley filed suit almost three years ago, meaning that Tempest Horsley should be just shy of her 21st birthday now.

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