|RICHMOND (July 10, 2020)—Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge Patrick Yeatts has largely upheld Virginia’s new law requiring a background check on all gun sales, but has issued a limited, narrow injunction, which Attorney General Mark R. Herring intends to appeal, temporarily blocking the law from applying to handgun purchases made by 18-20 year olds.
Judge Yeatts agreed with nearly all of Attorney General Herring’s arguments for the law’s constitutionality. He found that the act was “facially valid,” “facially constitutional,” “valid based on historical justifications,” that it “does not violate Article IV, § 12 of the Virginia Constitution,” that “the Act does not violate the non-delegation doctrine,” and that “the rest of the plaintiffs’ concerns do not presently justify review.”
However, the judge found that even though the universal background check law is facially constitutional, he believes it is currently unconstitutional as applied to a narrow set of 18-20 year olds seeking to buy a handgun because federal law does not allow a federally licensed firearm dealer to sell a handgun to anyone under 21, or to run a background check on a person attempting to make such a purchase.
“Background checks save lives and they are supported by huge majorities of Virginians, including gun owners. Background checks keep guns away from dangerous people who are already barred from possessing firearms, like felons and domestic abusers, but even this simple, commonsense, widely-supported safety measure is still too much for the extremists in the gun lobby who sued to block it,” said Attorney General Herring. “Universal background check systems only work if they are truly universal, and we believe this potentially dangerous judicially created loophole is without basis in the law. So while the judge agreed with nearly all of our arguments and largely upheld the law, we believe that this injunction, though limited and narrow, is worthy of higher review and I intend to appeal it as soon as possible.”
“Last November, Virginians sent a clear message at the ballot box that they wanted gun violence prevention laws in Virginia and this year the General Assembly delivered. Too many communities and too many families know all too well the devastation that gun violence creates. My top priority as Attorney General is to keep Virginians, their families, their loved ones, and their communities safe, which is why I am prepared to take every necessary step to ensure that Virginia’s new gun safety measures remain in effect.”
Judge Yeatts’ opinion letter is available here.