Speed Reads

guns

Laws regarding children and gun possession aren't as strict as you might think

Following the death of a shooting range instructor who was shot by his 9-year-old student, The Washington Post looked at minimum age requirements for gun possession around the United States, and found them to be "surprisingly lax."

Federal law prohibits handgun ownership by anyone under 18, but there isn't a federal minimum age for owning long guns (rifles, shotguns), often used for hunting game. There are minimum ages in 20 states and the District of Columbia — 14 in Montana up to 21 in Illinois — but in the other 30 states, The Post says, children of any age can technically possess a long gun legally.

"There are federal laws for minimum age purchasing of firearms," says Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. "Technically, anybody selling a gun in that context should look for age verification that someone is at least 18 years old." But, "if dad wants to give his son a rifle or a shotgun on his 13th or 14th birthday, he's pretty much free to do that in most states."

In almost every state, it is legal for children to visit shooting ranges and fire weapons, but an adult or instructor must be there. The gun the 9-year-old was using, an Uzi, is a submachine gun that is either classifed as a handgun or long gun, depending on the model and any modifications that have been made. There are no federal restrictions on the rifle version. "The laws aren't designed in essence to protect children from accidental shootings of this nature," Webster said. "There's a mindset that's fairly prevalent in the U.S. that there's nothing wrong with kids firing guns."