It is common practice to set legal ages for activities that require maturity such as voting, driving, and drinking alcohol. Purchasing and possessing a firearm necessitate the same, or greater, ability to act responsibly, and data shows that young adults account for a disproportionate number of gun homicides and suicides. By strengthening our minimum age laws for purchasing and possessing firearms, we will help protect our young people and the public at large from all too common tragedies.

Background

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.

  • In 2014, 21,101 people under the age of 21 were shot by guns. 3,265 died from those gunshot wounds.1.)) Of these deaths, 1,925 were classified as homicides, 1,145 as suicides, and 122 as the result of unintentional shootings;2
  • Firearms were used in 41% of suicide deaths among individuals under age 21 in 2014.3

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.4 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.5 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.6

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

Summary of Federal Law

Federal law in this area distinguishes between long guns (rifles and shotguns) and handguns, and between gun possession and gun sales. Federal law also provides stronger age restrictions for sales by licensed 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 21.7 Dealers may not sell or deliver a long gun, or ammunition for a long gun, to any person the dealer knows or has reasonable cause to believe is under age 18.8
Unlicensed persons Unlicensed persons may not sell, deliver or otherwise transfer a handgun or handgun ammunition to any person the transferor knows or has reasonable cause to believe is under age 18, with certain exceptions*.9 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: Subject to limited exceptions*, federal law prohibits the possession of a handgun or handgun ammunition by any person under the age of 18.10 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.11

Summary of State Law

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 stricter minimum age for handgun purchases than federal law;
  • 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.

State Minimum Age Laws That Extend Beyond Federal Law

State Purchase of a Handgun Purchase of a Long Gun12 Possession of a Handgun Possession of a Long Gun
Alabama
Alaska 1813 16 (without parental consent)14
Arizona 18 (without parental consent)15  1816
Arkansas 18 (without parental consent)17
California 2118 1819
Colorado
Connecticut 2120 1821 2122
Delaware 2123 18 (without parental consent)24
D.C. 2125 1826 2127 21 or 18 with parental consent28
Florida 1829 1830
Georgia
Hawaii 2131 2132 2133 2134
Idaho 18 (without parental consent)35 18 (without parental consent or hunting license, or while hunting)36
Illinois 2137 2138 2139 2140
Indiana 1841
Iowa 2142 18 (without parental consent)43 2144 1845
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana 1846
Maine 16 for transfers, 18 for sales47
Maryland 2148 1849 2150
Massachusetts 2151 1852 2153  15 (with parental consent) or 1854
Michigan  1855 1856
Minnesota 18 in cities (without parental consent) or 14 outside cities (without parental consent)57 14 (with firearms safety certificate), otherwise 1658
Mississippi
Missouri 18 (without parental consent)59
Montana
Nebraska 2160

 

1861

 

 

Nevada62 1863
New Hampshire
New Jersey 2164 18 N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:39-10e., 2C:58-6.1a, 2C:58-3c(4).)) 2165 1866
New Mexico 1967
New York 2168 2169 1670
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio 2171 1872
Oklahoma 1873 1874
Oregon 1875 18 (without parental consent)76
Pennsylvania 1877 1878
Rhode Island 2179 1880 1881
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas 18 (without parental consent)82
Utah  18 (without parental consent)83 18 (without parental consent)84
Vermont 1685
Virginia
Washington 21 (for possession outside private property)86 1887
West Virginia 18 (except in hunting)88
Wisconsin 1889 1890
Wyoming

 

 

State Laws Governing Minimum Age to Purchase and Possess Firearms

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

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, including both handguns and long guns, regardless of whether they are purchased from a licensed firearms dealer.

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, Washington, and the District of Columbia impose minimum age requirements for the possession of handguns which are stricter than the federal minimum of 18.91

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. Twenty-three states have enacted laws to at least partially close this gap, and impose a minimum age at which persons can possess long guns. 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.

Selected Local Law

New York City

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.92

Key Legislative Elements

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.
Notes
  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, 1999-2014, for National, Regional, and States (Nov. 2014), at http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal_injury_reports.html and Nonfatal Injury, 2001-2014 (Nov. 2014), at http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/nonfatal.html. Note: Users must agree to data use restrictions on the CDC site prior to accessing data). ⤴︎
  2. Id. The circumstances for the remaining deaths were unclear or unreported. 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. ⤴︎
  3. 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, 1999-2014, for National, Regional, and States (Nov. 2014), at http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal_injury_reports.html. ⤴︎
  4. 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. ⤴︎
  5. 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). ⤴︎
  6. 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. ⤴︎
  7. 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(1), (c)(1). ⤴︎
  8. 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(1), (c)(1). ⤴︎
  9. 18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(1), (5). ⤴︎
  10. 18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(2), (5). ⤴︎
  11. 18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(3). ⤴︎
  12. This chart only includes state laws imposing a minimum age for purchase of a long gun if the law applies to sales by both licensed and unlicensed sellers. ⤴︎
  13. Alaska Stat. § 11.61.210(a)(6). ⤴︎
  14. Alaska Stat. § 11.61.220(a)(3). ⤴︎
  15. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3109(A). ⤴︎
  16. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3109(A). However, this restriction does not apply to possession of a firearm on private property owned or leased by the minor or the minor’s parent, grandparent or guardian. ⤴︎
  17. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-73-109(a). ⤴︎
  18. Cal. Penal Code § 27505(a). ⤴︎
  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. § 22-4507. ⤴︎
  26. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2507.06(1). See also D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2302.1, 2302.3. ⤴︎
  27. D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03(a)(1). ⤴︎
  28. D.C. Code Ann. §§ 7-2502.03, D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24, § 2301.1. ⤴︎
  29. Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 790.17(2), 790.18. ⤴︎
  30. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 790.22(3), (5). ⤴︎
  31. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(a), (d). ⤴︎
  32. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(a), (d). ⤴︎
  33. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(a), (d). ⤴︎
  34. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(a), (d). These restrictions are subject to certain exceptions regarding possession of long guns by licensed hunters, etc. ⤴︎
  35. Idaho Code Ann. § 18-3302A. ⤴︎
  36. Idaho Code Ann. §§ 18-3302A, 18-3302E; 18-3302G. ⤴︎
  37. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/3(a), 65/4. ⤴︎
  38. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/3(a), 65/4. ⤴︎
  39. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/2(a)(1), 65/4(a)(2)(i). ⤴︎
  40. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/2(a)(1), 65/4(a)(2)(i). ⤴︎
  41. Ind. Code Ann. §§ 35-47-10-3, 35-47-10-5. ⤴︎
  42. Iowa Code § 724.22(2). ⤴︎
  43. Iowa Code § 724.22(1). ⤴︎
  44. Iowa Code § 724.22. ⤴︎
  45. Iowa Code § 724.22. ⤴︎
  46. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:91. ⤴︎
  47. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. 17-A, § 554-A. ⤴︎
  48. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-134(d). ⤴︎
  49. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-134(d)(1)(ii). ⤴︎
  50. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety §§ 5-101(r), 5-133(d).  Maryland’s minimum age requirement applies   to “regulated firearms,” which are defined as handguns and assault weapons. ⤴︎
  51. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 130, 131E(a). ⤴︎
  52. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 130, 131E(a). ⤴︎
  53. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131. ⤴︎
  54. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B. ⤴︎
  55. Mich. Comp. Laws Serv. § 750.223(2). This restriction applies to the sale of guns that are more than 26 inches in length. ⤴︎
  56. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.234f. ⤴︎
  57. Minn. Stat. § 609.66. ⤴︎
  58. Minn. Stat. §§ 97B.021. ⤴︎
  59. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.060. ⤴︎
  60. Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 69-2403, 69-2404. A handgun purchase certificate is generally required to acquire a handgun from an unlicensed seller. Individuals must be 21 to obtain the certificate and, under federal law, must be 21 to obtain a handgun from a licensed dealer. ⤴︎
  61. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-1204.01. This restriction does not apply to transfers of long guns from family members or “for a legitimate and lawful sporting purpose.” ⤴︎
  62. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.310. ⤴︎
  63. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.300(1). ⤴︎
  64. N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:58-3.3c, 2C:58-6.1a, 2C:58-3c(4). ⤴︎
  65. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-6.1b. ⤴︎
  66. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-6.1b. ⤴︎
  67. N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-7-2.2. ⤴︎
  68. N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(1)(a),, (12). ⤴︎
  69. N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00(1)(a). ⤴︎
  70. N.Y. Penal Law § 265.05. This law does not apply to the possession of a rifle or shotgun (or the appropriate ammunition) by the holder of a hunting license or permit used in accordance with state law. ⤴︎
  71. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2923.21(B). ⤴︎
  72. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2923.21(A). ⤴︎
  73. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, §§ 1273 (C), (E), 1283(D). ⤴︎
  74. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 1273(A), (E). ⤴︎
  75. Or. Rev. Stat. § 166.470(1)(a). ⤴︎
  76. Or. Rev. Stat. § 166.250. ⤴︎
  77. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6110.1(c), (d), 6302. ⤴︎
  78. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6110.1(a).

    Pennsylvania’s possession prohibition refers to handguns and to rifles and shotguns of a specified length. It does not encompass all long guns. ⤴︎

  79. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-35(a)(1), 11-47-37. ⤴︎
  80. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-30, 11-47-31. ⤴︎
  81. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-33. ⤴︎
  82. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 46.06(a)(2), (c). ⤴︎
  83. Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-509.9. ⤴︎
  84. Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-509. ⤴︎
  85. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 4007. ⤴︎
  86. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.240. ⤴︎
  87. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.040(2)(a)(iii), 9.41.042 ⤴︎
  88. W. Va. Code §§ 61-7-2(9); 61-7-8. ⤴︎
  89. Wis. Stat. § 948.60(2)(b). ⤴︎
  90. Wis. Stat. § 948.60(2)(a). ⤴︎
  91. 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). ⤴︎
  92. New York, N.Y., Charter §§ 462-464; Admin. Code § 10-303 et seq. ⤴︎