Age restrictions on handgun purchases barely make dent in homicide rates

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SEATTLE — The subject of gun control in America (or lack thereof) is a divisive topic. Now, the conclusions of a new study by University of Washington researchers are sure to incite further debate on both sides of the aisle. The authors say individual state laws barring 18-20 year olds from purchasing handguns make little to no difference in local gun-involved homicide rates among that age group.

Why is this the case? The study’s authors believe there’s just too many easy and illegal ways for young adults to get their hands on a gun.

“The central issue is that there’s a very high degree of informal access to firearms, such as through family members or illicit channels,” says study leader Caitlin Moe, a PhD student in epidemiology in the UW School of Public Health, in a release. “And we can’t address that kind of availability with age limits.”

How states that have age restrictions for handguns compare to those that don’t

For the study, the authors looked at firearm-associated homicide rates between 1995-2017 involving young adults living in five states that had raised the minimum age to buy any gun. Those five states are New York, Wyoming, New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Besides Wyoming, the other four states also raised the minimum age to possess a handgun specifically. The new age restrictions are higher than nationwide limits set by a 1994 federal law.

Researchers then compared the homicide rates to those in 32 other states that didn’t raise the minimum gun-buying age.

Results reveal the troubling observation that gun-related homicides attributed to young adults between 18-20 years old in the five states weren’t all that different from the other states. Of the roughly 275,000 studied gun homicides included in this research, 36,000 were committed by an 18-20 year old.

Considering the fact that most handguns used in crimes by young people are attained by illegal or shady practices, the study’s authors write “it is not surprising that we found no association” between state gun laws and homicides.

“It’s incredibly important that we address this major cause of death in young people,” Moe concludes.

The study is published in JAMA Pediatrics.