Sex, Age and Gun Control
By Joel D. Joseph
Another day in the United States, another despicable deadly shooting. The most recent tragedy happened in Poway, California at a synogogue twenty miles from my home. John Earnest, a nineteen year old anti-Semite walked into a Poway synagogue with an AR-15 style assault rifle and started shootingkilling one woman and injuring three othersbefore his weapon malfunctioned and he was chased out by an armed security guard.
Mass shooters over the past 20 years have had two things in common: they were mostly males under the age of 25. Adam Lanza, of Newtown, Connecticut was 20 when he gunned down twenty young children and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Columbine killers were 17 and 18, and Nikolas Cruz, the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was 19. The Virginia Tech shooter was 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at the school where the shooting took place.
In addition, they also all used automatic or semi-automatic weapons.
Young men under 25 are responsible for a disproportionate amount of America's gun violence. According to data collected by the FBI, nearly 50% of all gun homicides are committed by males younger than 25. Brain scans show that the frontal lobes in males don't mature until age 25, and their connections to other parts of the brain continue to improve to at least that age, said Dr. Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health.
"Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have made it possible for scientists to watch the rate at which the PFC (pre-frontal cortex) matures, and have discovered the male brain doesn't fully develop until age 25," Dr. Giedd said.
Consider the lobes at the front of the brain. The nerve circuitry there ties together inputs from other parts of the brain, said Dr. Jay Giedd. This circuitry weighs how much priority to give incoming messages like "Do this now," versus "Wait! What about the consequences?" In short, the frontal lobes are key for making good decisions and controlling impulses.
Federal laws on the appropriate age to buy a gun are inconsistent. You have to be 21 to buy a handgun from a federally licensed dealer. But if you're 18, you can buy the same gun from a seller who doesn't have a license. This has the perverse effect of forcing young people to buy handguns from sellers who because they aren't licensed don't have to conduct background checks.
In addition, federal law allows licensed gun dealers to sell rifles to people as young as 18. Unlicensed sellers can sell the same gun to anyone regardless of age, even to a 14-year-old.
Using brain maturation as a basis for age cutoffs is intelligent public policy. Many car rental companies won't rent to people younger than 25 because actuarial tables show that younger drivers have significantly higher accident rates. We allow 18 year olds to vote, but wait until 21 to allow them to drink. We should pass law, federal and state, that requires gun and ammunition purchasers to be 25 years of age or even 27. Even though females mature at a younger age, equal protection of the law requires that they wait until 25 to buy a gun as well.
Israelis who have completed military service or national service may apply for a gun license at 21; others must wait until 27. Those who are eligible include civilians who live or work in areas considered dangerous; people working in security and emergency services or as civilian security guards; and some farmers, tour guides, veterinarians and registered hunters.A Call for Action
After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre in 2018, Florida increased the minimum age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21. Washington State increased the minimum age to 21 and added additional requirements for individuals purchasing semiautomatic rifles. Other states are considering or have passedsimilar measures. In February, 2018, Senators Jeff Flake and Dianne Feinstein introduced The Age 21 Act, which would increase the minimum age to purchase and own a firearm to 21.
Congress and the states should raise the age of gun ownership to 25 or 27.