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How Old Do You Have to be to Buy or Possess a Firearm?

Have you ever wondered what the minimum age is to buy a gun? Or how old you have to be to possess one? Well, the answer is not as clear cut as one might think.

Glock handgun shooting

To answer the question, we need to remember that there are federal and state laws governing purchase and possession of firearms. And then, of course, there is the reality that these are just laws, and people can choose to disregard the law and possess a gun at any age.

Federal Law, the Minimum Age to Purchase or Possess a Gun—

Firearm Purchase or Transfer:

Under the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968, a person must be at least 18 years old to purchase a long gun (rifle or shotgun), or ammunition for a long gun from a federal firearm licensed (FFL) dealer. The GCA goes on to say that someone must be at least 21 years old to purchase a firearm other than a long gun, or ammunition for firearms other than long guns, from an FFL.

Federal law sets different age requirements for private party firearm transfers. For long guns (rifle or shotgun), there is no minimum age requirement for transfer. For a private party transfer of a pistol, the receiving party must be at least 18 years old.

Firearm Possession:

Federal law does not set a minimum age requirement for the possession of long guns. However, with just a few narrow exceptions, federal law restricts possession of a handgun, or handgun ammunition to those 18 years old or older.

You may think of the Federal law of as a minimum, that states must follow, because as we will see, states may, and do, set more restrictive age requirements for firearm purchases or possession.

State Law, the Minimum Age to Purchase or Possess a Gun—

Below is a table listing the minimum age requirements in each state for purchase or possession of a firearm. As mentioned, the GCA sets the baseline for firearm law. A state may choose to make the requirements more restrictive than the GCA.

Except for some temporary transfer situations, such as for a temporary transfer for specific activities, a state may not lower the age requirements. We denote these instances with an asterisk.

Below is a table listing the minimum age requirements for each state for purchase or possession of a firearm. Where the state has no law regulating the age for private party purchase or possession, the age defaults to federal guidelines mentioned above.

State Age Requirements to Own and Possess Firearms

StateMinimum Age to Purchase HandgunMinimum Age to Purchase Long Gun Minimum Age to Possess HandgunMinimum Age to Possess Long Gun
Alabama18Default to FED18Default to FED
Alaska181816*16
Arizona18181818
Arkansas181818Default to FED
California21211818
ColoradoDefault to FEDDefault to FED18Default to FED
Connecticut211821Default to FED
Delaware21212121
D.C.21182121/18 w/parent consent
Florida21211818
Georgia18Default to FED18Default to FED
Hawaii21212121
IdahoDefault to FED181818
Illinois21212121
Indiana18Default to FED1818
Iowa21182118
KansasDefault to FEDDefault to FED18Default to FED
Kentucky18Default to FED18Default to FED
Louisiana181817*Default to FED
Main1816 transfer/18 saleDefault to FEDDefault to FED
Maryland21182121
Massachusetts21182115 w/parent consent / 18
Michigan18181818
MinnesotaDefault to FED18 city/ 14 rural1814 with cert / 16
Mississippi181818Default to FED
Missouri1818Default to FEDDefault to FED
MontanaDefault to FEDDefault to FEDDefault to FEDDefault to FED
Nebraska211818Default to FED
NevadaDefault to FEDDefault to FED1818 / 14 with hunting license
New Hampshire18Default to FEDDefault to FEDDefault to FED
New Jersey21182118
New MexicoDefault to FEDDefault to FED19Default to FED
New York21212121
North Carolina18Default to FED18Default to FED
North Dakota18Default to FED18Default to FED
Ohio2118Default to FEDDefault to FED
Oklahoma18181818
Oregon18181818
Pennsylvania18181818
Rhode Island21211818
South Carolina18Default to FED18Default to FED
South DakotaDefault to FEDDefault to FED18Default to FED
Tennessee181818Default to FED
Texas1818Default to FEDDefault to FED
Utah18181818
Vermont212116*Default to FED
Virginia18Default to FED18Default to FED
Washington21212118 / 21 semi auto rifles
West VirginiaDefault to FEDDefault to FED1818
Wisconsin18181818
Wyoming2118Default to FEDDefault to FED

A few Questions to Ponder—

What is the reasoning behind requiring someone to be older to purchase a handgun compared to a rifle or shotgun?

A lot of smart people will mention other spart people's studies that say the human brain doesn't fully develop until well past 21 years of age. That one's abiltity to regulate impulse control doesn't develop until later in life. And because of this, young adults are more likely to commit suicide or homicide.

This may all be true, although I'm not convinced that there is any “impulse control” developmental metric that could predict suicide or homicidal tendency.

It seems to me that there are some 16-year-olds that have the impulse control of an adult, and some adults that have the impulse control of a 5-year-old.

If we won't let an 18-year-old purchase a handgun, isn't it irresponsible to let them enlist in the military? They have access to actual “weapons of war” and a brain that could be more easily damaged from the effects of war.

If we won't let an 18-year-old purchase a handgun, why do we allow them to vote? As we are constantly reminded, every elected to public office could be a “ThREat tO deMoCRacyY!” The core of our very nation is held together by who we vote for in any given election. If this is true, which why wouldn't it be, the media says so, then an 18-year-old with a voting slip is far more dangerous than an 18-year-old with a Glock 19.

If a 10-year-old can choose to permanently, chemically castrate themselves, they certainly have the wherewithal to learn how to “treat all guns as if they are loaded.”

girl at the gun range

I've also heard that regulating how old someone is to purchase a gun is no different from regulating how old they have to be to buy alcohol or drive a car. And while I think some age restrictions are reasonable, there is no comparison between a codified civil right granted to every citizen, and the right to drive a car. The Bill of Rights applies to everyone, equally, and I think that prohibiting 18-20-year-olds with the right to purchase a handgun severely limits their ability to defend themselves, and violates their civil rights.

I've probably spent enough time with my opinion.

Wrapping Up—

When gun legislation comes up in your state, thoughtfully consider the implications of someone as innocuous as magazine capacity limitations. You may end up like the people of Oregon, who voted for bigger government, and less freedom.

Benjamin Franklin said:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Is he right? Let us know what you think.

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One Response to How Old Do You Have to be to Buy or Possess a Firearm?

  1. spencerlyle November 19, 2022 at 1:53 pm #

    It is incorrect that federal law says you must be 21 to PURCHASE handgun ammunition from an FFL. It says an FFL may not SELL handgun ammunition to an individual under 21. An important distinction, as someone under 21 could still purchase ammunition typically found in a handgun (e.g. 9mm) from an FFL if it is used in a rifle/carbine (and if the FFL is willing to sell it).

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