EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on gun rights. Each addresses a common anti-gun trope.

“The Parkland school shooter was only 19! You should be 21 years old in order to buy a gun!”

It is correctly observed that anecdotes are not data, and that single instances are a terrible basis for effecting or changing policy. Yet, one of the loudest cries, after the demand for banning assault weapons, in response to the Parkland shooting is for the minimum age for purchasing a rifle to be raised to 21.

Before I dip into the broader question regarding age of majority, it’s worth judging this proposal in the context of actual mass shootings and shooters. A well-researched spreadsheet at Mother Jones lists 97 incidents with three or more fatalities since 1982. A perusal of those 97 identifies three where the shooter was under 21 and purchased his gun legally. Several other under-21 mass shooters acquired their guns illegally, either by theft or straw purchase. While the question as to whether raising the purchase age to 21 would be sufficient to prevent a mass shooting is the stuff of conjecture, the fact that more under-21 mass shooters got their guns illegally than legally tells us that it’s by no means a certainty. Lets not forget, mass shootings are not crimes of immediacy, and most mass shooters start their sick plans months or years in advance.

We are engaging in serious discussion about a policy shift that would affect millions based on a couple data points and a very dubious chance of effectiveness.

While it is a running gag that America’s young are reaching maturity at a later and later age, it remains that the age of majority for most activities in America is 18. An 18 year old can marry, can enter into legally binding contracts, can serve in the military (where he or she is trusted to shoot guns, and possibly die in service to the nation), can vote, can take on student loans, mortgages, and credit card debt, can consent to sexual activities, can buy tobacco, can drive, and can be tried as an adult for the commission of crimes. About the only thing we prohibit to 18 year olds is alcohol, a policy that doesn’t stop teens from drinking, and has been challenged by, among others, 100 university deans, as being ineffective and counterproductive.

Meanwhile, millions of teens engage in shooting activities, including both hunting and target shooting, every year. And, by teens, I mean kids as young as 12 (or even younger in some states).

Millions of teens also drive. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teen death, with over two thousand killed (and over 200,000 injured) every year. Many of these deaths and injuries are the result of drunk driving, despite the drinking age being 21. Yet, where is the conversation about banning teen ownership of cars?

Why aren’t we looking at the much, much higher casualty rate from teen driving as a signal that we need to raise the driving or car ownership age?

Because the misdeeds of a few are not justification for the infringement of rights of others.

If we agree that a person can engage in a laundry list of actions and obligations that are considered “adult” at a certain age, it’s hard to defend prohibiting other actions at that age, especially when the statistics prompting such a prohibition are so sparse.


Gun Rights Lesson #247: The misdeeds of a couple out of millions cannot rationally justify the infringement of the rights of those millions, especially when such infringements probably won’t make the slightest difference.”

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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