Criminal Justice

Should the minimum age to carry guns be raised?

A rise in deadly mass shootings and gun violence perpetrated by young adults begs the question of whether the minimum age requirement to purchase and possess a firearm should be raised to 21 years old.

Rise of the Issue

Since 2018, 2/3 of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States have been committed by people who were 21 or younger. Massacres in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas were carried out by 18-year-old young men who legally purchased their firearms. In addition, firearm suicides involving minors have increased by 61% between 2011 and 2020. These trends are leading people to wonder if the minimum age requirement to purchase and own a gun should be raised from 18 to 21. Currently, federal law sets the age limit at 21 only when a person purchases a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer. In other instances – purchasing a long gun from a licensed arms dealer or a handgun unlicensed seller – the age limit drops to 18. There is no age limit under federal law to buy a long gun from an unlicensed firearm dealer.

Supporters argue that young individuals under 21 are still vulnerable and that raising the minimum age requirement would curb gun violence, limiting the risk of homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings. On the other hand, opponents say that this restriction would be unconstitutional and would not have a significant effect on limiting gun violence.  

A recent poll found that nearly three in four voters (74%) are in favor of raising the age limit to buy and own a firearm from 18 to 21.

Issue Timeline


First Age Restriction Placed on Firearm Purchases

The Gun Control Act of 1968 established the first age restrictions on purchasing firearms from licensed dealers, with citizens having to be 18 to buy a long gun and 21 to acquire a handgun.


The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act Becomes Law

The regulation highlights the existing inconsistencies in federal law by allowing people between 18 and 21 to own a handgun while maintaining the provision that forbids licensed dealers to sell handguns to young adults under 21.


A Federal Appeals Court Rules Federal Minimum Age of 21 as Unconstitutional

In Hirschfeld v. Bureau of Alcohol,Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the federal bar on purchasing a handgun under the age of 21 was arbitrary and violated the Second Amendment.


U.S. House Passes the Protect Our Kids Act

In reaction to two consecutive mass shootings committed by 18-year-old gunmen in May, the Democratic-held House passed the Protecting Our Kids Act which aims to reinforce gun control legislation and ensure that individuals under 21 cannot purchase weapons of war.

Micro Issues



Proponents argue that raising the minimum age requirement to 21 in every state is consistent with the U.S. Constitution, while opponents say that the legislation violates the Second Amendment.


Gun Violence

Those in favor of raising the minimum age requirement to 21 argue that by restricting access to firearms the legislation would reduce the risks of gun violence, including mass shootings and suicides. Opponents, however, say that these laws would not have a direct effect on gun violence, as most motives behind mass shootings and other types of gun violence are linked to mental health issues and not gun access.


Defining Adulthood

While in most U.S. states, the legal age of the majority is 18, there is no apparent consensus on when adulthood begins. For those in favor of raising the minimum age requirement, young people between 18 and 21 are still vulnerable individuals with an elevated risk of engaging in violent behaviors against themselves or others. Opponents state that people ages 18 to 20 should be able to have the same rights as any other adults without conditions or qualifications.

Pro Arguments


Young adults under 21 are still vulnerable.

Studies have shown that the human brain continues to develop beyond the age of 18, specifically in areas that are responsible for impulse control, judgment, and long-range planning. Young people are therefore more predisposed to riskier and more aggressive behaviors.


Raising the age limit increases public safety.

Violent crimes and homicides committed by firearms disproportionately involve young adults under 21. By limiting gun access to people under 21, minimum age laws would reduce gun violence rates and consequently increase public safety.


Minimum age restrictions reduce suicide rates.

For the past decade, the rate of suicides committed by young adults under 21 has increased significantly. Strengthening minimum age regulations for purchasing and possessing firearms would decrease the number of suicides and help protect young people.


Restricting youth access to guns resolves current inconsistencies in the law.

Under current federal law, the minimum age to buy a handgun from a licensed arms dealer is 21, while the age limit to purchase a long gun from a licensed dealer or a handgun from an unlicensed dealer is 18. Raising the minimum age requirement to 21 would close this loophole.


Minimum age requirement laws are consistent with the Constitution.

Strengthening the age limit legislation to carry a firearm does not conflict with the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Con Arguments


Raising the age limit for carrying a gun to 21 promotes inconsistencies in the law.

The age limit to join and serve in the military is 18 years old. Raising the minimum age requirement to carry a firearm to 21 would enter into conflict with this law.


Minimum age requirements set apart a subset of adults.

Restrictions targeting young adults from 18 to 21 sets them apart from other adult groups and categorize them as being more dangerous and more likely to commit a crime, when this categorization is unfounded and strips people under 21 of their rights.


There are other solutions that would likely be more effective.

Whether it is red flag laws or additional background checks, there are other ways to reduce gun violence that would likely be more effective than removing gun access from young adults under 21. Similarly, initiatives addressing mental health and school security would have more effect on gun violence.


Taking away guns would only push young people to use other means to commit crimes or suicide.

If we look at European countries that have criminalized firearm ownership, their rates of violent crime and suicide did not significantly decrease and all that changed what the instrument used in the commission of the crime.


Measures to restrict gun access to young people under 21 may conflict with the Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not contain an age limit. People under the age of 21 could therefore claim full Second Amendment protections.