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September 3, 2021 - Herring Defends Longstanding Federal Gun Violence Prevention Measure

Commonwealth of Virginia Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street Richmond, Virginia 23219


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~ Herring joins Maryland AG Frosh in filing an amicus brief supporting the federal government’s petition for rehearing of a panel decision striking a longstanding gun violence prevention law ~


RICHMOND (September 3, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh in filing an amicus brief defending the decades-old federal gun violence prevention law that limits the sale of handguns to those age 21 and older. The attorneys general believe that a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit issued a legally incorrect ruling when it struck down the more than 50-year-old law in a 2-1 decision in July, and support the Biden Administration’s request for the full Fourth Circuit to review the case.


“We believe the panel got this one wrong, and we support the Biden Administration’s request for a full review by the Fourth Circuit,” said Attorney General Herring. “We think the decision to strike down this fifty-year-old gun violence prevention law was based on an inaccurate and incomplete reading of both the history of the law and the basis for limiting young people’s access to handguns. Handguns are easily concealed and often the weapon of choice for an individual seeking to harm themselves, an intimate partner, or commit a crime. Not only is this law constitutional, it’s important, and that’s why we’re fighting to defend it.”


Attorney Generals Herring and Frosh explain the importance of upholding this federal law by saying, “[m]ore than a thousand Virginians and more than 750 Marylanders are killed each year by gunfire. Throughout both States, families and communities know the pain of firearms-related suicides, accidental fatal shootings, mass shootings, and interpersonal, workplace, or intimate-partner violence that claim lives in urban, suburban, and rural communities. The challenged laws have helped prevent gun violence for over half a century and remain an important part of the federal and state gun laws on which Virginia and Maryland rely in keeping their citizens safe.”


Additionally, in the brief Attorney General Herring and Attorney General Frosh note their concern over the fact that this panel struck down this longstanding law by relying on arcane militia law and emphasizing militia involvement as part of the Second Amendment. The attorneys general argue:

  • The militia minimum age was not fixed at age 18 and has changed frequently over time. Historically in Virginia and Maryland 21 was considered the age of majority and legislatures often altered the minimum age for militia service.
  • Militias have been a source of exclusion and social dysfunction. Historically, the militia harmed Black Americans and other minority groups and in recent history paramilitary groups have claimed the mantle of “militia” in ways that threaten civil governance.
  • The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms cannot be equated with the historic obligation to serve in the militia.


Attorney General Herring has also successfully defended Virginia’s new gun violence prevention laws against legal attack by the gun lobby, including Virginia’s expanded background checks law, Virginia’s red flag law, and the reinstatement of one-handgun-per-month


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