A Texas law prohibiting 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds from legally carrying a handgun violates the U.S. Constitution and cannot be enforced, a federal judge has ruled.

Although the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, “Texas prohibits law-abiding 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman of Fort Worth concluded in a Thursday order.

“Generally, the Second Amendment guarantees ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,’ and the ‘people’ referred to in the Bill of Rights have always been understood to be ‘the whole people,'” Pittman wrote.

The judge, however, stayed enforcement of his injunction for 30 days or until an expected appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is resolved.

Pittman explained the unusual move by acknowledging that his ruling relied on a review of gun laws and practices that were in place during the nation’s founding and during Reconstruction — a review that could be subject to differing interpretations.

More importantly, Pittman wrote, “The Court’s crystal ball is further clouded by the fact that the 5th Circuit twice upheld this regulation under previous challenges.”

Although the delay could deprive plaintiffs of a constitutional right — the law was challenged by two Texans between ages 18 and 20 and by the Firearms Policy Coalition on behalf of its underage members — the stay could protect them from future legal trouble, the judge said.

“If the Court’s decision is reversed after Plaintiffs rely on it to purchase and carry handguns or apply for licenses to carry, they may be subject to the very criminal liability they sought to avoid,” wrote Pittman, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump in 2019.

The judge rejected Texas’ arguments that the age-based prohibition was similar to other permissible laws that limit gun ownership or possession by particular groups, such as those with felony convictions or mental illness.

“The longstanding prohibitions regarding felons and the mentally ill were based on an individualized determination that allowing the person in question unfettered access to firearms would pose a threat to public safety,” Pittman wrote.

The Texas law “does the opposite” by issuing a blanket prohibition on 18- to 20-year-olds carrying a handgun outside their home, he added.

It was unclear what affect Pittman’s ruling might have on efforts to raise the legal age to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 in Texas after an 18-year-old gunman used a recently purchased rifle to kill 19 students and two teachers at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School on May 24. The higher age limit, pursued mainly by Democrats and gun safety advocates, has not been embraced by Republican leaders.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa criticized the ruling as illogical and counter to the desire of most Texans for gun safety improvements.

“Texas Democrats strongly disagree with this baffling decision and, in frustration but not in defeat, we yet again call on Republicans to protect our children and codify real gun violence prevention measures before it’s too late,” Hinojosa said, adding that without action, “it’s a matter of when — not if — the next horrifying tragedy in Texas occurs.”

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