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By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has turned down a pair of Second Amendment appeals lodged by the National Rifle Association, keeping in place laws that restrict those under 21 years old from buying or carrying a handgun.

Without comment, the justices dismissed claims by NRA attorneys who argued limits on those who are 18 to 20 infringe the “fundamental right” to have firearms for self-defense.

In one case, the court refused to hear a challenge to a 1968 federal law that bars federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to those who are under 21. Sales of shotguns or rifles are permitted to those who are 18 or older, however.

This law was upheld by a federal judge in Texas and by the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans. Those judges said the age limits on handgun sales were justified because of the concern over violent crime.

In the second case, the justices refused to hear a challenge to a Texas law that forbids those who are 18 to 20 from carrying a concealed handgun in public. Since 1871, Texas law has prohibited individuals from carrying guns in public, the 5th Circuit said. However, the state legislature in 1995 said those who are 21 or older may obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon. But lawmakers said those who are under 21 may not obtain a license.

In defense of the law, the Texas attorney general said most states have similar age limits on the public carrying of guns by those younger than 21.

The high court’s action is consistent with a series of decisions in recent years refusing to revisit the question of whether firearms can be strictly regulated.

In 2008, the justices ruled, 5-4, that the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding citizens to have a handgun at home for self-defense. Since then, they have turned away several appeals urging them to decide whether gun owners have a right to carry a weapon outside their home.

Former U.S. Solicitor Gen. Paul D. Clement filed one of the appeals on behalf of the NRA. He argued that gun owners are facing “massive resistance” in the courts when they assert their rights under the Second Amendment.

“It is unthinkable that a court would allow Congress to declare law-abiding individuals in the first years of their legal majority too ‘irresponsible’ to be entrusted with First Amendment rights,” he said. He urged the court not to allow “this fundamental right [to] be relegated to second-class status.”

But after considering the appeals for several weeks, the court said Monday they would not be heard. The cases were NRA vs. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and NRA vs. McCraw.

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