Everyone has done something dumb as a teenager.
Sometimes it’s crashing a car. Sometimes it’s just skipping class. But, sometimes it’s firearms negligence.
From 1999 to 2015, unintentional injury was the number one cause of death in the 10-19 year old age group, with firearms being one of the listed injuries in that overarching category, according to data aggregated from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
This presents an important topic: the legal age requirement for minors to use handguns and under what circumstances this is acceptable.
Generally, children should be kept separate from firearms, unless under strict adult supervision and only when they’ve been taught gun safety and what a firearm is capable of.
What Are the Laws on Minors Using Handguns?
As with any gun law, the laws on minors using guns varies on a state-to-state basis. There’s also a state and federal distinction between purchase, possession, carrying and use.
There are states that allow minors to use handguns, but there are stipulations in each across the U.S.
Those in Iowa that are 14 to 21 years old may have firearms in their possession if they’re under adult supervision, according to Iowa’s Audubon County regulations.
The Washington State Legislature passed statutes that outline that it’s permissible for children under the age of 18 to access and use firearms while at firearm training courses, range practice, their parents’ property or any location that allows the discharge of firearms (but their parents must be keeping a watchful eye), as per RCW 9.41.042*RCW 9.41.040(2)(a)(iii) shall not apply to any person under the age of eighteen years who is:
(1) In attendance at a hunter’s safety course or a firearms safety course;
(2) Engaging in practice in the use of a firearm or target shooting at an established range authorized by the governing body of the jurisdiction in which such range is located or any other area where the discharge of a firearm is not prohibited;
(3) Engaging in an organized competition involving the use of a firearm, or participating in or practicing for a performance by an organized group that uses firearms as a part of the performance;
(4) Hunting or trapping under a valid license issued to the person under Title 77 RCW;
(5) In an area where the discharge of a firearm is permitted, is not trespassing, and the person either:
(a) Is at least fourteen years of age, has been issued a hunter safety certificate, and is using a lawful firearm other than a pistol;
or (b) is under the supervision of a parent, guardian, or other adult approved for the purpose by the parent or guardian;
(6) Traveling with any unloaded firearm in the person’s possession to or from any activity described in subsection (1), (2), (3), (4), or (5) of this section;
(7) On real property under the control of his or her parent, other relative, or legal guardian and who has the permission of the parent or legal guardian to possess a firearm;
(8) At his or her residence and who, with the permission of his or her parent or legal guardian, possesses a firearm for the purpose of exercising the rights specified in RCW 9A.16.020(3); or
(9) Is a member of the armed forces of the United States, national guard, or organized reserves, when on duty..
Vermont, the original constitutional carry state, allows people 16 and older to purchase firearms and ammunition, according to 13 V.S.A. § 4007§ 4007. Furnishing firearms to children
A person, firm or corporation, other than a parent or guardian, who sells or furnishes to a minor under the age of 16 years a firearm or other dangerous weapon or ammunition for firearms shall be fined not more than $50.00 nor less than $10.00. This section shall not apply to an instructor or teacher who furnishes firearms to pupils for instruction and drill.. Vermont has no law penalizing allowing children access to firearms.
Every state has their own answer to this question.
Basically, check out your state laws before giving firearms access to minors whom you feel understand gun safety.
That is key. Before considering any laws, ask yourself whether or not that minor has adequate training and education.
We talk a lot about gun rights, but children do not have rights to guns. It should be a privilege they earn after learning the proper respect for them and showing the maturity to handle something that can take a life.
Although the topic is children using handguns, some who debate this topic get distracted by purchasing laws.
Federal law under 18 U.S. Code § 922 (b)(1) restricts licensed dealers from selling handguns to anyone under the age of 21, and long guns to anyone under the age of 18. Private handgun sellers may not transfer a firearm to anyone they have reason to believe is under the age of 18.
In states like Texas, handguns may be sold or transferred to minors with parental permission, according to Tex. Penal Code § 46.06(c).
When it comes to carrying handguns, it’s also a state-by-state matter.
Some states mandate a strict 21-year-old age requirement. Some permitless carry states like Idaho set the age requirement to 18. Minors in Idaho may have in their possession a handgun if they have written permission from their parent or guardian to possess the weapon or are accompanied by their parent or guardian while the weapon is in their possession.
In Texas, handguns may be sold or transferred to minors with parental permission, according to Texas Penal Code § 46.06(c) Texas Penal Code – PENAL § 46.06. Unlawful Transfer of Certain Weapons
(c) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2) that the transfer was to a minor whose parent or the person having legal custody of the minor had given written permission for the sale or, if the transfer was other than a sale, the parent or person having legal custody had given effective consent..
On another note, there were statistics mentioned in the introduction about child death rates due to firearms.
Having the Gun Safety Talk With Kids
Not to belabor death statistics as macabre supporting information, but child death rates due to unintentional firearms injuries show a clear need for educating and instructing children on gun safety when the time is right.
Take them to a handgun safety course when they reach the right age. More knowledge never hurts, and in this case that cliche statement carries a lot of weight.
From 1999 to 2015, unintentional injuries were the number one leading cause of death in those age 10 to 19, with 1.6 percent of deaths being firearms out of the total 115,004, according to information from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
This totals to 1,877 deaths.
Teach them the four fundamental rules of gun safety:
- Treat all guns as if they’re always loaded
- Never point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to destroy
- Keep your finger off the trigger until the firearm is directed toward the intended subject
- Know what’s in front of, beyond and surrounding the target
Teach them situational awareness. Teach them threat de-escalation tactics. Teach them how handguns work and impress upon them the consequences of their actions.
Involuntary manslaughter may be charged as a felony conviction that will live in their criminal record, but taking a life may live in their conscience forever and will have a lasting, crippling impact on their mental, emotional and physical welfare. That’s not even considering the impact the negligent discharge will have on the lives of those connected to the victim.
But how do you approach the gun safety talk with children?
The National Shooting Sports Foundation produced a great video on the topic. It addressed at what general age range to bring up the discussion and which fundamental concepts should be addressed how, when and why.
Sex education and safe driving are important topics for minors at the right age. Why shouldn’t gun safety be just as seriously and widely considered in a country with gun possession as a fundamental right written into constitutional law?
Comment below when you started to learn about firearms and how others can go about easing their children into understanding how they should be approached.
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About The Author
Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter and photographer based in the pacific northwest. He graduated from the University of Idaho with degrees in public relations and apparel.