18-year-old Utahn denied access to gun because he is in foster care

Posted at 6:36 PM, Nov 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-04 20:36:46-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- For most of his life, 18-year-old James Edwards lived in unfit conditions--forcing him to learn how to be an adult long before he turned 18.

“I learned to work really hard with landscaping, and that's how I helped pay for food,” Edwards told FOX 13 News.

More than a year ago, Edwards was thrust into foster care. And, because he is a ward of the state, Edwards is considered a minor, which is preventing him from buying a gun.

“Under the juvenile code he's still a minor, but under any other code he'd be considered an adult,” said Adam S. Hensley, Edwards’ attorney.

Edwards is working to finish high school, and then he plans to enlist in the Marines. He says he wants to own a Ruger .22 rifle for one reason.

“Target shooting to develop my skills, so that way I'm not super scared or intimidated by any firearm in the Marine Corps.,” Edwards said.

Edwards says he has no criminal history, can meet any federal requirements, and will take any safety classes necessary. But when he asked a judge if he could have a gun he was told no. That’s when Edwards got an attorney.

Hensley says because Edwards is in foster care, he is considered a juvenile until he is 21 or until he gets out of the state’s system.

The state is arguing their position under “the best interest of the child” standard of Utah’s custody law.

“The issue really is, can that standard supersede our fundamental rights and our right that was granted in the Bill of Rights, which is our Second Amendment right, to own a firearm,” Hensley said.

Edwards says he wants to own, not possess, a gun and he requested the court approve an appointed guardian who would store his gun in a safe.

“James wouldn't have the combination," Hensley said. "He wouldn't have immediate access to it. He would only be able to use that gun when that court appointed guardian is with James."

The Department of Family and Child Services released this statement to FOX 13, saying in part, “DCFS works closely with foster children and with foster families, and our number one priority is to ensure the safety of all involved. DCFS trusts the judicial process, and we intend to fully support the court's decision."

“What's the point of defending the Constitution if you can't exercise the constitutional rights you're defending?” Edwards asked.

This case is now under advisement by the judge.