The recent massacre of 10 innocent Black People at the ruthless hands of white supremacist Payton Gendron on May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, New York, and the slayings of 19 innocent children by Salvador Ramos, on May 24, 2022 – at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the teenagers had two remarkable facts in common: Both cold-blooded killers were 18-years-old!
When teenagers carry out mass murders with legally purchased high-powered rifles, the tragedies highlight disparities in how federal and state laws regulate the sales of handguns and rifles to individuals under 21.
What is troubling about the whole affair is that not many states nor Congress except for a few Democrats are willing to battle the powerful gun lobbyists, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and conservative senators to raise the minimum age to 21 or older in order for young people to be able to buy rifles including the type of guns favored by murderers to kill multiple individuals. Most conservatives insist that banning younger people from buying guns infringes upon their Second Amendment right to bear arms. Second Amendment | Text, Meaning, Definition, & History | Britannica
Democratic Utah State Senator Derek Kitchen intends to introduce an age restriction bill when the state legislature meets in Salt Lake City. Kitchen said there must be guardrails in place to protect the public from mass shootings. “Our children are dying,” Kinchen said. “This isn’t freedom. This isn’t the liberty that we think of when we think of the United States. We are failing our children. We cannot wait any longer.”
The consensus among outraged citizens over mass murders in their communities is that an 18-year-old should not be able to purchase a firearm at all.
Gun Activists and Gun Rights
Gun activists weighed in on the controversy over gun rights.
Aidan Johnston, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, a gun rights organization, hopes the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision on whether an 18-year-old can legally purchase their choice of long guns and shotguns including the notorious AR-15 and the and the .223 caliber rifle. “We shouldn’t punish law-abiding adults for the sins of a few deranged killers”
Gun laws in America, including (Texas State) allow teenagers to legally purchase the AR-15 rifles used in separate incidents to carry out mass murder. For instance, Salvador Ramos purchased the weapons used at the Elementary School massacre only two days after his 18th birthday.
This leeway allowing American teenagers to purchase high-powered, semi-automatic rifles at 18 – is like throwing more gasoline on a fire, according to experts, citing lack of maturity of a teenager’s rational thinking decisions. “The part of the brain that controls cognitive behaviors – the prefrontal cortex – continues to develop until people are 26, putting young adults at higher risk of being impulsive without fully understanding the consequence,” said Cassandra Crifasi, an associate professor at John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Although more research is necessary for experts in the behavior field to fully connect the link between age and gun violence, Crifasi agreed more studies have shown that there is a “heightened risk of gun violence for those under 21.”
The shooters’ young age in New York and Texas shocked the human conscience, but age-wise, from a legal standpoint, the typical age of schoolhouse killers are, in fact, 18-20 years old! Documented previous statistics since 1966 show this is true, according to an analysis by Metropolitan State University’s James Densley and Hamline University’s Jillian Peterson. The separate killing sprees in New York and Texas have re-ignited the debate over the minimum legal age for citizens to purchase firearms of whether they should be 18 or 21, particularly when purchasing high-powered assault-style guns. Here is a link to the incidents involving mass shootings at schools in America:What we know about mass school shootings in the US – and the gunmen who carry them out (theconversation.com)
Anti-gun proponents insist that American citizens should be adults at least 21 years old or older to legally purchase high-powered semi-automatic rifles, the kind often used by mass murderers to kill several people. Following the recent mass shootings in New York and Texas, New York and Utah lawmakers petition their states to raise the age limit to purchase long rifles.
New York joined other states concerning age restrictions for gun purchases. Governor Kathy Hochul signed the bill into law following the massacre of 10 black people in Buffalo. New York is now the seventh state in the nation to ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles to any person under 21
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced federal legislation shortly before the Texas shootings in Uvalde that would raise the minimum age to purchase weapons to 21 from 18. Feinstein took a deep interest in the reality that the killer who murdered the 10 Black people at Tops Supermarket in Buffalo was also 18.
“It makes no sense that it’s illegal for someone under 21 to buy a handgun or even a beer (yet the same person) can legally buy an assault weapon,” she said. The relentless controversy over whether a person should be considered an adult to buy large weapons, and, as stated, the totality of it all collides with brain science: At what age should someone’s brain fully develop into a full-grown male or female? The usual answer is 21 for males, and 18, for females.
In response to outcries across America over teenagers having access to ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ on June 2, President Joe Biden declared boldly that a ban should be in place to outlaw assault weapons. Texas holds the distinction of having some of the weakest gun laws in the country which, as stated, an 18-year-old can buy long guns and other weapons all day long while federal law trumps state law; federal law requires citizens to be 21 to purchase weapons. Federal law also forbids licensed gun dealers to sell or deliver handguns or long rifles to people under 21.
Meanwhile, the powerful (NRA) National Rifle Association has challenged state laws in California and Florida that restrict people under 21 from buying rifles. “The ban infringes the right of all 18-to-20 year-olds to purchase firearms for the exercise of their Second Amendment rights, even for self-defense in the home,” the NRA argued in a court filing, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
“The ban does not just limit the right; it obliterates it,” the NRA attorneys argued before the judge. In addition, government attorneys argued back-and-forth that 18-to-20-year-olds are likely to engage in impulsive, emotional, and risky behaviors, behavior that offers immediate or short term rewards, thus making it rational to purchase firearms at 21, to satisfy the Legislature’s public safety concern.
A federal judge upheld the law in Florida last year. The NRA has appealed the ruling.
The NRA scored a major victory over gun rights just this past May, when a U.S. appeals court in California struck down that state’s ban of the sale of semi-auto rifles to adults under 21 in Matthew Jones vs Bonta. The justices ruled that the arbitrarily imposed ban violated the Second Amendment of the Constitution. California state is planning to appeal the decision, yet still a ban remains in effect on purchases of long rifles for citizens under 21, with exemptions for hunters, law enforcement and the military. Ninth Circuit Tosses California Law Barring Young Adults from Buying Semi-Automatic Guns (yahoo.com)
A justice had strong words for those attempting to eliminate the constitutional rights of younger citizens in California who often purchase rifles.
“America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army,” Judge Ryan Nelson wrote in the decision striking down California’s blanket ban. “Today we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms.”
So far, only six states, including Florida, Washington, Vermont, California, Illinois, and Hawaii, have increased the minimum age to buy long guns to 21, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
State Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat who chairs the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, echoed Feinstein’s statement published in Texas Tribune. “Why do we accept a government that allows an 18-year-old to buy an assault rifle but not tobacco products?” “The hypocrisy of the government is deafening. We can develop a gun policy that does not infringe upon one’s constitutional right while preserving and protecting life; that’s called multitasking, and we can do that.”
“The law that allows 18-year-olds to purchase assault rifles has got to go,” said Clay Robison, in the Texas Observer. Robison is a spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association, a professional organization in favor of national laws raising the age for long-gun ownership to 21.
“There’s no reason for anyone not in the military to have an assault rifle,” Robison continued. “That should be a no-brainer for the governor and the legislature to get behind. I hope they see common sense on that.”
Tug-of-War to Modify Age Limit: How Sociologists Define Adulthood
When both massacres occurred in New York and Texas last month, major news media outlets, including the New York Times, described the young mass shooters as ‘men’ and ‘gunmen’ in their stories. Many experts concurred the ‘word term’ of men and gunmen to describe the killers was accurate due to their age of 18. However, there is much controversy in America today about when a person is fully grown.
According to research by sociologists, a person at 18 years old hasn’t fully transitioned into adulthood. Adulthood defines the period of a human individual’s lifespan, once the complete physical and intellectual maturity has occurred, beginning at age 20 or 21; furthermore, experts conclude the brains of females develop earlier than males.
In many U.S. states, 18 is the legal age for a person. At this age, in some states, a teenager doesn’t qualify for parental support, and they can be phased out from foster homes, no longer allowed child support, and even be tried as adults for serious crimes. A person at 18 years old can serve in the military as well. However, adulthood didn’t always require an individual to be 18 years old in the U.S. For example, the legal age of maturity was 21, a threshold derived from colonial rule for centuries.
Researchers who study adolescent brain development argue that various levels of maturity develop during particular timelines. For example, Stephon Johnson writes on Bigthink.com: “The factors behind cognitive development raise many philosophical questions. But the most important boils down to how we punish criminals, especially young men, whose brains develop an average of two years later than women.”
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence published a study on their website explaining how the developing brains of young people can easily trigger them to make immature, dangerous decisions when having immediate access to firearms.
The article states, “the human brain continues to develop well past the age of 21, particularly in areas that may alter a person’s likelihood of involvement in violence against themselves or others.” For example, the brain is responsible for impulse control, judgment, and long-range planning are among the last areas of the brain to fully mature and may continue to develop until at least age 26.1 years.
The developing brains of adolescents and young adults may put them at higher risk of making risky decisions. Hormonal changes can significantly affect self-control, decision-making, emotions, risk-taking behaviors, and aggressive impulses. The biological process during late adolescence and young adulthood can predispose individuals to riskier and more aggressive behaviors.
A study of offenders incarcerated for crimes committed with firearms found that 17% of offenders would’ve been prohibited from buying a gun if the state they were living in had a law that raised the minimum age to possess a handgun to 21 years.
Young People Commit Gun Offenses in High Numbers
In 2019, 28,568 young people between 10 and 21 were arrested for weapons offenses, such as illegally carrying or possessing a firearm. This group made up 26% of all arrests for weapons offenses that year. Data also suggests that young people disproportionately commit gun homicides. For example, 18-20-year olds comprise just 4% of the U.S. population but account for 17% of known homicide offenders. Because impulse regulation and emotional control continue to develop into the mid-20s, including adolescents and people under age 21- are at elevated risk of attempting suicide.
During a recent press conference at Uvalde Elementary High School, where Salvador Ramos slaughtered 19 students last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said mental health issues are to blame for the horrific mass shootings, not firearms sales to younger people. “The ability of an 18-year-old to buy a long gun has been in place in the state of Texas for more than 60 years,” Abbott said. “Why is it that in the majority of those 60 years, we did not have school shootings and why do we have them now? I really don’t have the answer to that question.”
Gun violence is an urgent and very complex problem that undoubtedly requires evidence-based solutions. Yet we’ll never know if raising the age to 21 in every state in America for young people to buy deadly weapons will stem the tide of mass shootings, but what can we really do that will work?
We may or may not ever know the most sensible answers. So let’s see what happens next.