Minimum Age to Purchase & Possess Firearms Policy Summary

Posted on October 1, 2013

minimumage-croppec

background-header

Laws imposing minimum age requirements for the possession and purchase of firearms are intended to decrease access to firearms by young people and, correspondingly, to decrease the number of suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings among that population.

  • Every day in the U.S., guns cause the deaths of nine people under the age of 21;1
  •  In 2010, 3,459 people under age 21 died from gunshot wounds.2 Of these deaths, 2,329 were classified as homicides, 936 as suicides, and 150 as the result of unintentional shootings;3
  • Firearms were used in 38% of suicide deaths among individuals under age 21 in 2010.4

Laws that prohibit unsupervised possession or purchase of firearms by children and young people can prevent tragedies.  Based on data from the FBI, 18 to 24 year-olds account for a disproportionate percentage of arrests for homicide and violent crime in general.5  A survey of convicted gun offenders in 13 states found that nearly a quarter of them would have been prohibited from obtaining firearms at the time of the crime if the minimum legal age for possessing any type of firearm was 21 years.6  Yet, as described below, federal law and the laws in most states continue to allow unsupervised access to firearms by individuals in these age groups.7

Additional information about laws preventing child access to firearms is included in our summary on Child Access Prevention.

federal-header

Federal law in this area distinguishes between long guns (rifles and shotguns) and handguns, and between gun possession and gun sales.  Federal law also distinguishes between licensed and unlicensed gun sellers.

Minimum Age for Gun Sales and Transfers: 

Under federal law - Handguns                              Long Guns (Rifles and Shotguns)                                   
Licensed firearms dealers Dealers may not sell or deliver a handgun or ammunition for a handgun to any person the dealer has reasonable cause to believe is under age 21.8 Dealers may not sell or deliver a long gun, or ammunition for a long gun, to any person the dealer has reasonable cause to believe is under age 18.9
Unlicensed persons Unlicensed persons may not sell, deliver or otherwise transfer a handgun or handgun ammunition to any person the transferor has reasonable cause to believe is  under age 18, with certain exceptions*.10 Unlicensed persons may sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer a long gun or long gun ammunition to a person of any age.

 

Minimum Age for Gun Possession:  Federal law prohibits, with certain exceptions*, the possession of a handgun or handgun ammunition by any person under the age of 18.11 Federal law provides no minimum age for the possession of long guns or long gun ammunition.

*Exceptions: Federal law provides exceptions for the temporary transfer and possession of handguns and handgun ammunition for specified activities, including employment, ranching, farming, target practice and hunting.12

state-header

Several states and the District of Columbia impose minimum age requirements that extend beyond those contained in federal law. Those laws generally fall into four categories:

  • Laws imposing a minimum age for all handgun purchases, from licensed or unlicensed sellers;
  • Laws imposing a minimum age for all long gun purchases, from licensed or unlicensed sellers;
  • Laws imposing age requirements for possession of handguns that are stricter than federal law; and
  • Laws imposing a minimum age for possession of long guns.

Additional information about laws preventing child access to firearms is included in our summary on Child Access Prevention.

Minimum Ages for Firearms

State Purchase of a Handgun13 Purchase of a Long Gun Possession of a Handgun14 Possession of a Long Gun
Alaska15 18 18 1616
Arizona17 18 18
Arkansas18 18 18
California19 21 18
Connecticut 2120 1821 2122
Delaware 2123 1824
D.C.25 21 21 2126 2127
Florida28 18 18 1829
Hawaii30 21 21 21 18
Idaho31 18 18 1832
Illinois33 21 21 2134 2135
Indiana 1836
Iowa37 21 18 21 18
Louisiana38 18 18
Maine39 18 16
Maryland40 2141 18 2142
Massachusetts43 21 1844 2145
Michigan 1846
Minnesota 1647
Mississippi48 18
Missouri49 18 18
Montana 1450
Nevada51 18 1852
New Jersey53 21 18 21 18
New Mexico 1954
New York55 21 2156 1657
North Dakota58 18
Ohio59 21 18
Oklahoma60 18 18 18
Oregon61 18 18 1862
Pennsylvania63 18 18 1864
Rhode Island65 21 18 1866
South Carolina67 18
Texas68 18 18
Utah 1869
Vermont70 16 16
Washington 1871
Wisconsin72 18 18 1873

 

Description of State Laws Governing Minimum Age to Purchase and Possess Firearms

For citations to these laws, please see the chart above.

1. States Imposing Minimum Age Requirements for All Firearm Purchases: Although federal law prohibits licensed dealers from selling long guns to persons under 18, there is no federal regulation of the sale of long guns by unlicensed dealers to minors. Similarly, while federal law prohibits handgun sales by licensed dealers to persons under 21, unlicensed dealers are prohibited only from selling handguns to persons under 18. As listed above, many states have imposed a minimum age for the purchase of all firearms, regardless of whether they are purchased from a licensed firearms dealer.

2. States with Stricter Minimum Age Requirements for Possession of Handguns than Federal Law: Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and the District of Columbia impose minimum age requirements for the possession of handguns which are stricter than the federal minimum of 18. Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia74 allow handgun possession only by persons 21 or older; New Mexico requires persons to be at least 19 in order to possess a handgun. Maryland provides that persons must be at least 21 to possess “regulated firearms,” defined as handguns and assault weapons.

3. States Imposing Minimum Age Requirements for Possession of Long Guns: While federal law prohibits federally licensed firearms dealers from selling a long gun to anyone under 18, there is no federal minimum age for possession of a long gun. Some states have closed this gap, and impose a minimum age at which persons can possess any firearms (including long guns). Montana limits long gun possession to children 14 and over. Alaska, Minnesota and New York limit possession of long guns to persons age 16 and over. Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin limit possession of long guns to persons 18 or over. Many of these laws contain exceptions which allow younger children to possess long guns where the minor’s parent or guardian is present, or when the minor is engaged in hunting or target shooting. In Illinois, persons must obtain a Firearm Owners Identification or “FOID” card in order to lawfully purchase or possess a long gun. Persons must be 21 or older to be eligible to obtain a FOID card, or have written consent of a parent or guardian. Likewise, in the District of Columbia, no one under the age of 21 may obtain a registration certificate, which prevents such individuals from lawfully possessing a firearm, although the Chief of Police may issue a registration certificate to an applicant between the ages of 18 and 21 years old if the application is accompanied by a notarized statement of the applicant’s parent or guardian.

SELECTED LOCAL LAW

New York City

As noted above, New York State limits handgun purchase or possession to people age 21 or older, but does not impose a minimum age for purchase or possession of rifles and shotguns.  In New York City, however, no person under age 21 may be granted a permit or license to purchase, possess or carry any firearm, with certain exceptions.  It is also unlawful to transfer a firearm to any person under age 21 unless he or she is exempted. A person under 21 may carry, fire or use a rifle or shotgun without being subject to the permit requirement if he or she is in the presence of, or under the direct supervision of, a permit holder, or engaged in a military drill, competition, or target practice at a firing range.75

50 State Summary

comprehensive-law-header

The features listed below are intended to provide a framework from which policy options may be considered. A jurisdiction considering new legislation should consult with counsel.

  • Minimum age of 21 is imposed for all handgun sales, from licensed or unlicensed sellers (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, District of Columbia)
  • Minimum age of 18 is imposed for all long gun sales, from licensed or unlicensed sellers (22 states and the District of Columbia)
  • Minimum age of 21 is imposed for possession of handguns (Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia)
  • Minimum age of 18 is imposed for possession of long guns (16 states and the District of Columbia)
  • Younger teens are allowed to possess long guns only under direct adult supervision
  1. Nat’l Ctr. for Injury Prevention & Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web-Based Injury Statistics Query & Reporting System (WISQARS) Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2010, for National, Regional, and States (Sept. 2010), http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/dataRestriction_inj.html. Note: Users must agree to data use restrictions on the CDC site prior to accessing data). []
  2. Id. []
  3. Id.  The circumstances for the remaining 44 deaths were unclear. Recent research on unintentional shooting deaths has found that such shootings “occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities.”  More specifically, many shooting deaths that were counted as homicides were committed unintentionally.  See Michael Luo & Mike McIntire, Children and Guns: The Hidden Toll, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2013), at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/us/children-and-guns-the-hidden-toll.html?ref=michaelluo&_r=0. []
  4. Id. []
  5. U.S. Dep’t of Justice & Fed. Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States 2012, Table 38: Arrests by Age, at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/tables/38tabledatadecoverviewpdf. []
  6. K. Vittes et al., Legal Status and Source of Offenders’ Firearms in States with the Least Stringent Criteria for Gun Ownership, 19 Inj. Prev. 26 (2013). []
  7. For more information about the disproportionate impact of gun violence on young people, including the impact on young people as perpetrators of gun violence, see Center for American Progress, Young Guns: How Gun Violence Is Devastating the Millennial Generation (Feb. 2014), at http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CAP-Youth-Gun-Violence-report.pdf. []
  8. 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(1), (c)(1). []
  9. 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(1), (c)(1). []
  10. 18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(1), (5). []
  11. 18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(2), (5). []
  12. 18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(3). []
  13. This chart only includes state laws imposing a minimum age for purchase of a firearm if the law applies to sales   by both licensed and unlicensed sellers. []
  14. This chart does not reflect state   laws imposing a minimum age for possession of a handgun that is equivalent   to, or weaker than, the federal minimum age of 18. []
  15. Alaska   Stat. § 11.61.210(a)(6). []
  16. Alaska   Stat. § 11.61.220(a)(3). []
  17. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3109. []
  18. Ark.   Code Ann. §§ 5-73-101(9), 5-73-109. []
  19. Cal.   Penal Code § 27505(a). []
  20. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-34(b). []
  21. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37a(b), (c). []
  22. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36f. []
  23. Del. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 903. []
  24. Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § 1445. []
  25. D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2502.03, 7-2507.06(a)(1), 22-4507. []
  26. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03(a)(1). []
  27. Id. []
  28. Fla.   Stat. Ann. §§ 790.17(2), 790.18. []
  29. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 790.22(3). []
  30. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(d). []
  31. Idaho   Code Ann. § 18-3302A. []
  32. Idaho Code Ann. § 18-3302E. []
  33. 430 Ill.   Comp. Stat. 65/3(a), 65/4. []
  34. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat.   65/4(a)(2)(i), 720 Ill.   Comp. Stat. 5/24-3.1. []
  35. 430 Ill.   Comp. Stat. 65/2(a)(1), 65/4(a)(2)(i). []
  36. Ind.   Code Ann. §§ 35-47-10-3, 35-47-10-5. []
  37. Iowa Code § 724.22. []
  38. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:91. []
  39. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17-A, §§ 554-A, 554-B. []
  40. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-134. []
  41. Maryland’s   minimum age requirement under the “handguns” column applies to “regulated   firearms,” which are defined as handguns and assault weapons.  When Maryland strengthened its assault   weapons law in 2013, it grandfathered in certain weapons. []
  42. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-133(d).  Maryland’s minimum age requirement applies   to “regulated firearms,” which are defined as handguns and assault weapons. []
  43. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 130. []
  44. Massachusetts’ minimum age for the purchase of large capacity rifles and shotguns is 21 and older. Large capacity weapon” includes assault weapons and most firearms capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition or more than five   shotgun shells (either directly, or via a large capacity feeding device). []
  45. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131. []
  46. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.234f. []
  47. Minn. Stat. § 97B.021(a).  Minnesota allows possession of long guns by persons who are 14 or 15 and have a firearms safety certificate.  Minn. Stat. § 97B.021(b)(4). []
  48. Miss.   Code Ann. § 97-37-13. Mississippi also prohibits any person from selling deadly weapons to persons under 18.  Deadly weapons include any rifle with a barrel of less than 16 inches in length, or any shotgun with a barrel of less than 18 inches in length.  Miss. Code Ann. § 97-37-1. []
  49. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.060.  Missouri’s statute prohibits “recklessly” selling firearms to persons under 18 without parental consent. []
  50. Mont. Code Ann. § 45-8-344. []
  51. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.310. []
  52. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.300(1). []
  53. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-6.1. []
  54. N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-7-2.2. []
  55. N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(1), (12). []
  56. N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(1)(a). []
  57. N.Y. Penal Law § 265.05. []
  58. N.D. Cent. Code § 62.1-03-02. []
  59. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2923.21. []
  60. Okla.   Stat. tit. 21, § 1273. []
  61. Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 166.250(1)(c)(A), 166.470. []
  62. Or. Rev. Stat. § 166.250. []
  63. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6110.1. []
  64. Pennsylvania’s possession prohibition refers to handguns and to rifles and shotguns of a specified length.  It does not encompass all long guns. []
  65. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-30, 11-47-35(a). []
  66. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-33. []
  67. S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-30. []
  68. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 46.06(a)(2). []
  69. Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-509. []
  70. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 4007. []
  71. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.040(2)(a)(iii). []
  72. Wis. Stat. § 948.60(2)(b). []
  73. Wis. Stat. § 948.60(2)(a). []
  74. The District’s Chief of Police may issue a registration certificate to an applicant between the ages of 18 and 21 years old who is otherwise qualified if the application is accompanied by a notarized statement from the applicant’s parent or guardian stating that: 1) the applicant has the permission of his parent or guardian to own and use the firearm to be registered; and 2) the parent or guardian assumes civil liability for all damages resulting from the actions of such applicant in the use of the firearm to be registered. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03(a)(1).  This type of registration certificate expires on the person’s 21st birthday. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03(a)(1)(B). []
  75. New York, N.Y., Charter §§ 462-464; Admin. Code § 10-303 et seq. []