Handguns for Minors: What Does the Science Say? - Pacific Standard

Handguns for Minors: What Does the Science Say?

As Alabama considers two bills that would allow minors under the age of 18 to possess pistols, we take a look at what the consequences of these gun law changes might be.
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(Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

If you're a minor in Alabama who wants to get a pistol for hunting or sport, you may be in luck: Alabama's House and Senate are considering separate bills that call for some important relaxations to state gun laws, including one that forbids the sale of pistols to minors under the age of 18.

What might happen if these bills pass? Below, we've matched up the relevant research to the changes proposed in the Alabama bills:

CHANGE 1: FEWER RULES FOR LICENSED GUN SHOPS

What's the current law? Whenever a licensed gun shop sells a pistol, the shop clerk must fill out a form that includes details such as the gun's make and model, as well as the buyer's name, address, race, and place of birth. Copies of the form go to the local chief of police and the secretary of state. Sellers must keep their own copy of the form for six years.

Pistol buyers in licensed gun shops must either personally know the seller, or show the seller identification.

Anybody who sells pistols, revolvers, or silencers must keep permanent records of every one of those things they sell.

What would change? The House and Senate bills both strike out the need for gun sellers to keep the records described above. They also nix rules about buyers needing to show identification.

What does the science say? A recent review of gun-law studies found that having numerous gun-sale laws is associated with fewer legally sold guns showing up in crime scenes soon after their sale. Weakening laws around sales may make it easier for legally bought guns to enter illegal channels.

CHANGE 2: MINORS CAN POSSESS PISTOLS, WITH PROVISIONS

What's the current law? It's illegal to give a pistol to anybody under the age of 18.

What would change? Minors under the age of 18 will be able to "receive or possess a pistol" if they have permission from a parent, guardian, or spouse over the age of 18. Minors don't need permission if they're getting the gun "for hunting, trapping, target shooting, competing in a firearm competition, or firearm or hunting training or instruction."

What does the science say? In 2005, researchers published a study that compared youth homicide and suicide rates across all American states. They found no link between having a minimum age for buying a handgun and homicide or suicide rates.

There may be a few reasons for the lackluster impact of minimum-age-to-purchase laws on homicide rates. For one, many age-limit laws were still new at the time of the analysis, so perhaps their effects hadn't yet shown up in the statistics. Also, some states had laws prohibiting young people from carrying guns. Those states weren't included in the analysis as having a "minimum age to purchase" law, although the effect of a "minimum age to carry" law may be the same. So the researchers may have ended up comparing states they thought should be different, but were in fact similar.

CHANGE 3: LADIES SELL GUNS TOO

What's the current law? The current law is written so that it uses male pronouns (he, his, him) only.

What would change? The proposed House bill adds "and she" to a place in the bill. It also adds Oxford commas to the document.

What does the science say? We're not sure there's much science here. However, we are glad to know Alabama lawmakers thought to make these revisions alongside their bigger changes.

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