(USA TODAY) -- In an lawsuit pitting the National Rifle Association against the federal government, a federal appeals court has upheld a federal ban on federally licensed gun dealers selling handguns to anyone under 21, agreeing with Congress that the age group was more prone to violence than adults.
The ruling Monday by a three-member panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans does not affect the sale of long guns to the under-21 age group, nor private sales to minors by parents or guardians.
"Congress designed its scheme to solve a particular problem: violent crime associated with the trafficking of handguns from federal firearms licensees to young adults," U.S. Circuit Judge Edward C. Prado wrote on behalf of the panel.
The 41-page opinion noted that Congress, in passing the law, "could have sought to prohibit all persons under 21 from possessing handguns - or all guns, for that matter. But Congress deliberately adopted a calibrated, compromise approach."
The ruling was replete with crime statistics over several years, noting at one point that "the threat posed by 18-to-20 year-olds with easy access to handguns endures."
It also asserted that among murderers, the 18-to-20 age would "were more likely to use a firearm than adults 21 and over."
The NRA sued the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Attorney General Eric Holder in 2010, claiming that the ban violated the constitutional right of thousands of NRA members between the ages of 18 and 21. The case went to the appeals court after a federal judge in Texas upheld the government.
In a dissent of the full court's decision not to rehear the case, U.S. Circuit Judge Edith H. Jones, joined by five other judges, argued that "the implications of the decision - that a whole class of adult citizens, who are not as a class felons or mentally ill, can have its constitutional rights truncated because Congress considers the class 'irresponsible' - are far-reaching."
Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY