The Florida House gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill banning gun sales to anyone under 21, sending the measure to Gov. Rick Scott, who has not said whether he will sign it into law. More significantly, there is serious consideration in Congress of a similar national ban.
On top of this, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, L.L. Bean and Kroger have all moved to discontinue gun sales to anyone under age 21.
We all know what prompted these well-meaning actions. It was the horrific attack at a Florida high school last month by a 19-year-old that claimed the lives of 14 students and three adults. So it is hardly surprising that people want to keep guns away from 19-year-olds.
The desire to “do something” is obvious. But what about a 20-year-old woman who is being stalked by a rapist or a killer? Research shows that having a gun is by far the most effective way for young women to defend themselves.
A ban on gun sales to anyone younger than 21 won’t keep people who are determined to be mass killers from getting weapons.
We have to consider both types of cases to decide what changes will save the most lives.
Fortunately, we don’t need to guess. This isn’t the first time that the government has raised the age requirement for rifle purchases. In 1994 the first federal limits required buyers to be 18 years of age. Prior to that law, there was no federal age requirement for buying a rifle.
Thomas Marvell has done the only peer-reviewed study on this change. It was published in the Journal of Law and Economics, and concluded: “Where the 1994 laws seem to have an impact, the suggestion is almost always that crime increases; thus, there is no evidence that these bans had their intended effect.”
Marvell found that the 1994 age requirement was associated with a 5.1 percent increase in the homicide rate, and a 6 percent increase in firearm homicides. Beyond that, there was no real effect on crime rates.
But Marvell notes that if “juveniles are more vulnerable targets, the result is likely to be more crime, especially violent crimes involving juveniles.”
A ban on gun sales to anyone younger than 21 won’t keep people who are determined to be mass killers from getting weapons. These killers often plan their attacks more than six months in advance, and sometimes as much as year or two ahead of time.
Young people have shown themselves to be highly capable of obtaining illegal drugs, and they can often buy illegal guns from the same sources. After all, the same people who sell drugs have guns to protect their valuable property.
What is certain is that the most law-abiding people will be disarmed.
Young adults tend to have lower incomes and live in less desirable areas where more crimes take place. Limiting gun purchases to those 21 and older makes it more difficult for young adults to defend themselves.
There is also a lot of evidence that the young people who use guns for self-defense are extremely law-abiding. Concealed handgun permit holders lose their permits for firearms violations at rates of thousandths or tens of thousandths of a percentage point.
The data for Michigan, Nevada and Texas indicate that permit holders between the ages of 18 and 22 are even more law-abiding than older permit holders. Why should these law-abiding young adults be denied their right to defend themselves?
Most who oppose the increased age for buying a gun point out that 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the military, where some of them handle fully automatic weapons in combat to defend our nation. So why can’t they make decisions on whether to save their own lives or the lives of others?
Those who make arguments that 19- and 20-year-olds are emotional and irrational would never argue that we should take away these young adults’ ability to vote, to join the military, or to drive cars that can accidentally or deliberately kill people.
But, as I have just pointed out, the main argument for raising the age limit as a way to reduce crime is itself suspect.
The other gun control laws being pushed, such as background checks on gun transfers or waiting periods, wouldn’t have stopped a single mass public shooting this century or even years before that.
Unfortunately, the discussion ignores that gun control laws have real costs. The vast majority of people stopped from purchasing guns by background checks are actually law-abiding citizens.
Waiting periods also stop law-abiding people who may need guns quickly for self-defense. Indeed, even short waiting periods have been associated with a small increase murder rates. We ignore that over 98 percent of these attacks keep happening in gun-free zones, where general citizens are not able to defend themselves.
Laws passed in the heat of the moment can do more harm than good. The current rush to pass legislation is no different. Even in the aftermath of terrible mass public shootings, we shouldn’t lose sight of all of the crimes that are stopped by people acting in self-defense. Democrats ignore research at our peril.