Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Don’t Deny Young Adults the Right to Self-Defense

Raising the purchase age for guns won’t stop mass shooters but will hurt law-abiding Americans.

After last month's mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Donald Trump said he favored raising the minimum age for buying rifles or shotguns from federally licensed dealers, currently 18, to 21. On Monday he backed away from that position, saying the decision should be left to the states.

The president was immediately criticized for kowtowing to the National Rifle Association. But there are sound reasons, aside from crass political considerations, for questioning the effectiveness and fairness of new restrictions on young adults' access to firearms.

Since the Parkland massacre was perpetrated by a 19-year-old with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle that he legally purchased from a gun store, the idea of banning such sales is superficially appealing. But there is little reason to think it would have a measurable impact on mass shootings.

Of the 23 deadliest shootings in modern U.S. history, three were perpetrated by killers younger than 21 who used rifles. In addition to Parkland, there was the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Colorado and the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The Sandy Hook shooter, who was 20, used a Bushmaster XM-15 bought by his mother, so a higher purchase age clearly would not have thwarted him. The Columbine killers, who were both younger than 18 when they started collecting weapons, illegally obtained two shotguns, a Hi-Point 995 carbine, and an Intratec TEC-DC9 pistol through older third parties.

If the policy that Trump initially endorsed had been in place, the Parkland perpetrator would not have been allowed to buy a rifle from a gun store. But he still could have legally bought one in a private transaction, where the minimum age would have been 18.

The bill that Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law last week goes further, making it a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, for anyone younger than 21 to buy any kind of firearm from anyone. Florida is now one of just three states with such a rule, which still leaves would-be mass murderers with indirect or illegal options, as illustrated by the Sandy Hook and Columbine attacks.

While the public safety benefits of banning gun purchases by 18-to-20-year-olds are doubtful, the burdens on millions of law-abiding adults are clear. At 18, the NRA notes in a lawsuit challenging Florida's new law, Americans "are considered adults for almost all purposes," and it seems anomalous to deny them the constitutional right of armed self-defense, which is also a fundamental human right.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a longtime gun controller who wants to raise the minimum federal age for buying long guns, thinks the existing policy is the real anomaly. "Under current law," she says, "licensed gun dealers cannot sell a handgun to anyone under 21, but they are allowed to sell assault rifles like the AR-15 to anyone over 18. This policy is dangerous and makes absolutely no sense....If you can't buy a handgun or a bottle of beer, you shouldn't be able to buy an AR-15."

The AR-15, a semiautomatic that fires just once per trigger pull, is not, strictly speaking, an assault rifle, which is capable of automatic or burst fire. Furthermore, Feinstein favors giving actual assault rifles to 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds—provided they are members of the armed forces.

Florida's law likewise makes an exception for a "servicemember," which highlights an inconsistency that is logically and morally indefensible. As the NRA notes, adults younger than 21 are considered old enough to lay down their lives in defense of the country—old enough, in fact, to be conscripted into that role whenever Congress deems it necessary.

Out of uniform, however, these same young adults not only can't legally buy a beer; under Florida's new policy, they can't legally buy firearms to defend themselves, their homes, and their families. To borrow a phrase from Feinstein, that policy is dangerous and makes absolutely no sense.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    All gun control is an unconstitutional infringement on the right to keep and bear arms.

    If the age of majority is 18 then that is the age that a young person can buy a gun. Younger than that, a kid would need their parent's permission to buy a gun.

  • DajjaI||

    felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, for anyone younger than 21 to buy any kind of firearm

    This war on guns will hurt kids far more than it helps. And they will have only themselves to blame.

  • Rebel Scum||

    If you think the war on drugs is bloody (it is), then wait until there IS a war on guns...

  • Hank Phillips||

    These States were technically still at war with Germany in 1920. Demobilized soldiers kept their rifles and sidearms which turned out right handy for dispatching federal dry agents in numbers that increased like today's Libertarian Party vote count. That "Laughter Curve" was sharply felt, for the Hoover Administration stopped publishing the scorecard for citizens v. dry agents in 1931. Senator Millard Tydings, however, published the roll of murders on both sides of federal prohibitionism, and it is hard to tell whether Second Amendment rights or spoiler votes were the more important hasteners of repeal.

  • DiegoF||

    The NRA is going to lose this case, of course. Any sign of victory would endanger our thoroughly entrenched (and fast ever re-entrenching, from its false twilight between the passage of the 21A and the Reagan-era alcohol laws) insistence that young adults are mature enough to decide whether to kill and be shot at for a paycheck in a foreign land, but not whether to smoke a cigarette. Now we are told that 14 year olds possess a wisdom we should heed to tell us where to go as a nation, but 20 year olds are essentially overgrown toddlers who are not to be trusted with a butter knife.

    We will never get anyone, Republican or Democrat, to stand up and say, "Gambit: I'll grant the government the right to set the age of full rights at whatever it pleases--so long as it says it will not send 'essentially, in the brain, still children' of that age to fight our wars."

  • AlgerHiss||

    "so long as it says it will not send 'essentially, in the brain, still children' of that age to fight our wars."

    Or vote. You want gun rights set at 21? Then no voting until 21.

    If I can't trust you with a gun, I sure as Hell can't trust you with a vote.

  • Hank Phillips||

    "Our" wars, paleface?

  • Eman||

    Nancy P looks like a gremlin from the movie "gremlins".

  • Jerryskids||

    If young adults think they need a gun for self-defense they should just get themselves some taxpayer-funded armed guards the way Nancy Pelosi did.

  • LeeBee||

    The reason we allow 18 year olds to serve in the military but not drink is the same. They are too reckless and lack a sense of their own mortality. That makes for a brave soldier but a dangerous drunk.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    That's actually pretty profound. Your take on age limits had never occurred to me. Thank you!

  • Rebel Scum||

    Brave, but reckless. If you are too reckless to drink a beer, you are too reckless to fight the govt'ts wars.

  • CE||

    But 18, 19 and 20 year olds are also a big part of the militia. They should be training and practicing in case they need to be called up by their governors.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Well yeah. Child soldiers are fucking brutal, even when you don't realize that's what's fighting you. Old enough to aim a gun and pull a trigger, smart enough to follow complex orders, not wise enough to know better. Easy to control.

    17 is as close as the US currently allows itself†, but for many that's young enough.
    ________
    †I may be mistaken, but I know that in the past you could enlist at seventeen as long as you met certain criteria. Probably still true today since you have some high school graduates that are still 17, and the armed forces like to grab 'em straight out of high school.

  • Hank Phillips||

    You--not "we"--left out the part about involuntary servitude, and no right to register to vote and cast a ballot being OK whenever the banks need foreign war loans collected.

  • Rebel Scum||

    "Under current law," she says, "licensed gun dealers cannot sell a handgun to anyone under 21, but they are allowed to sell assault rifles like the AR-15 to anyone over 18. This policy is dangerous and makes absolutely no sense....If you can't buy a handgun or a bottle of beer, you shouldn't be able to buy an AR-15."

    No such thing. And while we are on the topic, If I am otherwise a legal adult at the age of 18, such that I can be conscripted into the military, issued a weapon, and sent off to kill or be killed on behalf of the government, then I should be able to all those things at the age of 18.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Jacob is of course right, and argues cogently from verifiable facts. But equally verifiable facts prove that wherever people have no effective means of self-defense they are easy meat for looters bent on the initiation of force as a means of parasitism. That is the fact that impels the grim and persistent looters--the same mentality that ruled Uganda, nationalsocialist Germany and othersocialist Russia, and puppet states such as east Germany--to consistently pick away at the Second Amendment that backs the power of States to defend themselves from invasion set forth in Article 2. These predators may have lost most of their dictatorships, but altruist looters are persistent, and as reachable by Jacob's rhetoric as so many lampreys, leeches or sharks.

  • Sebastian Cremmington||

    Texas requires concealed permit holders to be 21...when you have lost Texas you have LOST!

  • Devastator||

    They'll be okay with that Desert Eagle until 21.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online