How is it that we have a country-wide Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21, and we have a federal minimum age for sale of tobacco (Tobacco 21), but we don’t have anything analogous for purchasing guns?
Tobacco 21 doesn’t even have an exemption for military veterans age 18-20. You just can’t buy tobacco if you’re not 21. If we don’t consider 18 an advanced-enough age at which to buy your own liquor or tobacco, I’m stumped as to why we think 18 should be acceptable as a threshold for purchasing firearms, or why implementing an advanced age should be left to individual states.
Doesn’t the fact that we put alcohol, tobacco, and firearms under the same government agency tip the hand that similar treatment seems appropriate?
The ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) also regulates fireworks, but states and even municipalities seem to do a better job of restricting fireworks sales than they do of slowing inappropriate gun sales.
Many jurisdictions make a distinction between consumer or ground-level fireworks like sparklers, and display fireworks like the kind you gather to watch a professional set off. Anyone who’s travelled I-95 on the east coast passing by Pedro’s South of the Border knows that it’s easy enough to get around state-by-state restrictions if you’ve got wheels and enough gas. But at least there’s an attempt to put some reasonable guardrails up, resulting in fewer injuries and fatalities.
In Delaware, ground level fireworks like sparklers are legal for purchase only to those over 18 years of age and only between June 4 to July 4, and between December 1 to January 1, seasons where they’re typically used with innocent intentions. Many other types of fireworks can’t be sold at all, period. Its State Fire Marshall’s website offers, “Please leave fireworks in the hands of professionals”.
Could we expect that in the same jurisdiction they would restrict the purchase of firearms to hunting season? And instead of restricting only the purchase of semi-automatic or AR rifles to those over 21, could we expect it to restrict the sale of those types of products to general consumers entirely, as they do with bottle rockets and Roman candles? Nope.
But why not? I can’t find the answer in the statistics.
According to the American Safety and Health Institute, in 2019, an estimated 10,000 people went to emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. With that for context, consider that Pew Research Center found that the number of gun-related deaths – deaths – the following year was over 45,000. Of all murders in the U.S. in 2020, 79% involved a gun. Just over half of all suicides – over 24,000 – involved a gun.
Some will say that cars kill a lot of people, and that you don’t see anyone interfering in the purchase of those. True. But of the gun-related deaths in 2020, accidental deaths by firearm accounted for about 3% of those 45,000. The rest are deaths where guns were being used intentionally for murder and suicide. Unlike cars which are being used for transportation sometimes resulting in accidental deaths, guns are being used as killing machines.
To be transparent, I have generally found myself in the middle of the road when it comes to gun control. My godfather and grandfather were avid hunters, and I grew up believing responsible use, care, and storage of firearms didn’t pose a threat. I personally enjoyed shooting at gun ranges for a time as an adult in my 30s, and owned a gun when I did. Most of my concern was with assault weapons or semi-automatic rifles. But could my comfort with the accessibility of more mainstream weapons be undue?
Shouldn’t we expect restrictions to mirror the understanding of adult-decision-making capabilities demonstrated in those of alcohol and tobacco? I recognize that prohibiting the use of guns until the age of 21 would reshape the military and law enforcement, and could have other repercussions. So I would not necessarily expect to see that extensive a prohibition. But for those who have no demonstrable job-related need of a firearm, why would we not restrict purchasing power similarly to alcohol and tobacco?
In reading this post, and hearing me asking “why”, and “why not”, you may have been fuming, “It’s the gun lobby, idiot!”, or “It’s the NRA, you ignorant, uninformed [insert your favorite expletive]!” Well, I’m none of those things.
I think we’re still in this boat in these rough waters because we’ve allowed special interests to take the helm, and because many leaders lack the confidence and spines to make the trip without support of those special interests. And sure, Citizens United v. FEC didn’t do us any favors. But I think it’s helpful to ask whether we could get to any answers that made sense without seeing it through that lens.
I don’t think we can.
Take a look at Pew’s research in “What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S.” to understand just how badly we’re failing Americans by refusing to implement common sense measures that could save lives. These past weeks of May 2022 brought unspeakable heartbreak. We can’t think on it for long without wiping our eyes, grabbing for tissues, holding loved ones a little longer. And still, looking at the research suggests that the problem is even bigger.
It’s bigger than the stomach-turning mass shootings of defenseless children. It’s bigger than the people we have lost to heinous hate crimes. It’s not about whether people are acting in concert or as lone wolves.
The problem in 2020 was 45,000 people big. And for each of those 45,000 individuals, there were more who mourned their loss, and many who forever lost pieces of themselves alongside the obvious victims. Each year, the problem presented by easy access to guns unfolds all year long, not just when it’s big enough for the news to pick it up.
It’s a man-made problem, not a divine one. Let’s stop suggesting that thoughts and prayers alone are going to fix this.