By Joel D. Joseph
Another day in the United States, another despicable deadly shooting. Mass shooters over the past 20 years have had two things in common: they were mostly men and they were under the age of 25. The Uvalde mass murderer and the Buffalo killer were both boys only 18 years of age. 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, these young men 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 of the brain are key for making good decisions and controlling impulses.
Federal laws on the appropriate age to buy a gun are inconsistent. Citizens are required 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. Federal law should require that all gun sales must be via licensed dealers.
In addition, federal law allows licensed gun dealers to sell rifles to people as young as 18, including semi-automatic AR-15s. Unlicensed sellers at gun shows can sell this same gun to anyone regardless of age, even to a 14-year-old.
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