The 18-20 age group has a higher likelihood of risky and aggressive behaviors and an elevated risk for suicide.
Increasing the minimum age from 18 to 21 will help protect young people and the public at large.
This act would increase the age from 18 to 21 years for lawful sale of firearms or ammunition. Full-time law enforcement, state marshals and members of the U.S. military would be exempt from these prohibitions.
Research Shows that the Human Brain Continues to Develop Well Past the Age of 21
The parts of the brain responsible for impulse control, judgement, and long-range planning are among the last areas of the brain to fully mature, and in fact, may continue to develop until at least age 26.1
The developing brains of adolescents and young adults may put them at higher risk of making risky decisions. Hormonal changes can have significant effects on self-control, decision making, emotions, risk-taking behaviors, and aggressive impulses.2
The 18-20 age group has a higher likelihood of risky and aggressive behaviors.
A study of offenders incarcerated for crimes committed with firearms found that 17% of offenders would have been prohibited from buying a gun if their state had a law that raised the minimum age to possess a handgun to 21 years.3
In 2019, 28,568 young people ages 10 to 21 were arrested for weapons offenses, such as llegally carrying or possessing a firearm.4 This group made up 26% of all arrests for weapons offenses that year.5
Hormonal changes in adolescents and young adults can have significant effects on self-control, decision making, emotions, risk-taking behaviors, and aggressive impulses.6
The 18-20 age group is at an elevated risk for suicide.
Risk is much higher in the early stages of the onset of major psychiatric conditions, and these symptoms usually first develop in adolescence or early adulthood.7
Suicide attempts that result in death or hospital treatment peak at age 16, but are at the highest rates from age 14 through age 21.8
Gun access can significantly increase these risks. The association between firearm availability and suicide is strongest among adolescents and young adults.9
Minimum Age Laws are Effective
One study found that state laws raising the minimum legal age to purchase firearms to 21 years were associated with a nine percent decline in rates of firearm suicides among 18-to-20-year-olds.10
Controlling for other factors, unintentional firearm deaths and firearm suicides among youth (ages 0-19) also fell after the federal minimum age law was enacted.11
A Deadly Example of the Lack of Judgement and Risky Behaviors of the 18-20 Age Group:
Kyle Rittenhouse was 17 when he killed 2 and wounded another with his assault weapon in Kenosha, WI in 2020.
Dominick Black was 18 when he bought the gun for Rittenhouse.
It’s About Public Safety
It is time to put public safety first and join with these states and increase the minimum age to buy guns.
1. Elizabeth R. Sowell, et al., “In Vivo Evidence for Post-adolescent Brain Maturation in Frontal and Striatal Regions,” Nature Neuroscience 2, no. 10 (1999); Tulio M. Otero and Lauren A. Barker, “The Frontal Lobes and Executive Functioning,” in Handbook of Executive Functioning (New York: Springer, 2013).
2. Mariam Arain, et al., “Maturation of the Adolescent Brain,” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 9 (2013); Allan Siegel and Jeff Victoroff, “Understanding Human Aggression: New Insights from Neuroscience.” International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 32, no. 4 (2009): 210–211.
3. Katherine A. Vittes, Jon S. Vernick, and Daniel W. Webster, “Legal Status and Source of Offenders’ Firearms in States with the Least Stringent Criteria for Gun Ownership,” Injury Prevention 19, no. 1 (2013).
4. 2019 Crime in the United States, Table 38, Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Washington, DC: Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/topic-pages/tables/table-38.
6. Calculated using data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports and US Census Bureau. Uniform Crime Reporting Program: Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), Washington, DC: Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation; US Census Bureau Population Estimates.
7. Merete Nordentoft, Preben Bo Mortensen, and Carsten Bøcker Pedersen, “Absolute Risk of Suicide after First Hospital Contact in Mental Disorder,” Archives of General Psychiatry 68, no. 10 (2011); Ronald C. Kessler, et al., “Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication,” Archives of General Psychiatry 62, no. 6 (2005).
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), “Fatal and NonFatal Injury Data,” last accessed Feb. 26, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars. Figures represent an average of the five most recent years of available data (2013-2017).
9. See Johanna Birckmayer and David Hemenway, “Suicide and Firearm Prevalence: are Youth Disproportionately Affected?,” Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 31, no. 3 (2001); Matthew Miller and David Hemenway, “The Relationship between Firearms and Suicide: a Review of the Literature,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 4, no. 1 (1999).
10. Daniel W. Webster, Jon S. Vernick, April M. Zeoli, and Jennifer A. Manganello, “Association Between Youth–focused Firearm Laws and Youth Suicides,” JAMA 292, no. 5 (2004).
11. Mark Gius, “The Impact of Minimum Age and Child Access Prevention Laws on Firearm-related Youth Suicides and Unintentional Deaths,” The Social Science Journal 52, no. 2 (2015).
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