Politics & Policy

Stricter Age Restrictions on Gun Purchases Don’t Make Sense

Vintage rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts – RC116FD244A0
Time and time again, we’ve seen mass shooters find loopholes in the law or ignore it entirely.

You can vote at 18. You can become a parent, work full-time, get married, or even fight overseas in the military. But if gun-control advocates get their way, you won’t be able to buy a gun until you’re 21.

In response to the February 14 school shooting at Parkland High School, the Florida state legislature just passed a bill that will increase the age requirement to buy guns –– an idea that’s gaining support across the country. During a bipartisan meeting on school safety, even President Trump signaled his support for this proposal.

Yet lower age limits on gun purchases won’t do anything to stop school shootings. Time and time again, we’ve seen mass shooters find loopholes in the law or ignore it entirely.

Adam Lanza was only 20 when he went on a horrific rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. But he used guns purchased by his mother, so an age restriction would not have saved a single life. The Columbine shooters were underage when they bought their guns, but got them from a 22-year-old friend.

Nikolas Cruz was over 18 but not yet 21 when he legally purchased the gun he used in the Parkland shooting, leading some to say the attack was preventable. But he was banned from bringing a backpack to school, let alone a gun, and was still quite well-equipped for the attack. Cruz spent nearly a year collecting an arsenal of rifles, so he would have had plenty of time to find someone else to purchase a gun for him if age limits were in place – like the Columbine and Newtown shooters did. So while the urge to “do something” about gun violence is understandable, age restrictions can’t stop school shooters from getting guns any more than they stop young people from getting anything else we’re not supposed to have.

The drinking age is 21, but that has never really stopped anyone. Thirty-three percent of high schoolers drink, and 18 percent binge drink. Most of them aren’t even 18, let alone 21, and the drinking only gets more extreme in college. So take it from a student at the University of Massachusetts –– such a wild party school that’s it’s nicknamed “ZooMass” — that no age limit can stop determined young people from getting their hands on things they aren’t technically allowed to buy.

And while raising the age requirement to buy a gun wouldn’t stop a determined killer from getting his hands on one, it could stop a single mom from protecting her child. Writer Bethany Mandel shared a childhood story in the New York Times that speaks to this reality: “It was a spring night and I was sleeping with my window open, which was right above my bed; I loved breathing in the fresh air. That night, in that open window, I heard the banging of a ladder, and by the time my mother made it into the room and began loading her gun, a man was about to climb in.

A higher age limit would disarm a 19-year-old rape survivor who just wants to feel safe again. It would tell a 20-year-old veteran, home from deployment, that she can be trusted to protect national security with an M16 overseas but can’t handle keeping a gun at home.

A higher age limit would disarm a 19-year-old rape survivor who just wants to feel safe again.

Meanwhile, the only states that have chosen to limit all guns sales to 21 and older are Hawaii and Illinois. The results have been far from clear: Illinois ranks in the top ten states for gun homicides, while Hawaii celebrates low rates of gun violence.

Some might argue that limiting gun purchases to 21 and up is a reasonable restriction. After all, you already have to be 21 to buy alcohol or rent a car, and even to buy a handgun from a licensed dealer. But even if we pretend that those restrictions are actually effective, gun-control proponents miss a crucial piece of the puzzle — you don’t have a constitutional right to get drunk or drive a car. Yet you do have a right to bear arms, so we shouldn’t concede the same restrictions for all gun purchases so quickly.

If we’re to allow any meaningful infringement upon gun rights, it should at least be one that’s effective at reducing violence — and limiting gun purchases to 21 and up clearly won’t be. So if you’re old enough at 18 to fight for our country with a rifle overseas, you should be able to have one at home for self-defense too.

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