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Do strict minimum age laws for firearms impact firearm homicide rates?


Stricter minimum age laws have helped improve outcomes for tobacco and other things. Do such laws have a positive impact on firearm homicide rates in young adults?

Earlier this year, the federal government raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 years of age to 21 years of age. An investigation in JAMA Pediatrics takes a look at whether increasing the minimum age to purchase or possess a handgun could reduce the rates of homicide caused by a firearm caused by young adults.1

The investigators ran a difference-in-differences analysis of young adult-perpetrated homicide rates between states that implemented stricter minimum age gun laws than the 1994 federal law and those that didn't implement stricter laws. The homicide data came from Supplementary Homicide Reports. The 1994 federal law set the minimum age to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer at 21 years of age, 18 years of age to buy a handgun from an unlicensed dealer, and 18 years of age to possess a handgun. They excluded the 12 states that had raised the minimum age before the 1994 law from the stricter implementation group. During the study period, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Wyoming passed laws that increased the age to purchase handguns from all dealers from 18 years of age to 21 years of age. All of those states, except for Wyoming, also raised the minimum age to possess a handgun from 18 years of age to 21 years of age.

Within the study period, there were 35,960 homicides caused by firearms that had been committed by young adults aged 18 to 20 years. The researchers found no statistically significant difference in the homicide rates in the states that had imposed stricter age limits when compared to the 32 states that had not enacted stricter laws (crude incidence rate ratio, 1.10; 95% CI, 0.86-1.40). When compared to states that hadn’t implement stricter laws, the adjusted incidence rate ratio was 1.14 (95% CI, 0.89-1.45) in the states that had done so.

The researchers concluded that the stricter minimum age laws for firearms did not result in significantly lower rates of homicide caused by firearms. They believe that lawmakers should reconsider their use.


1. Moe C, Haviland M, Bowen A, Rowhani-Rahbar A, Rivara F. Association of minimum age laws for handgun purchase and possession with homicides perpetrated by young adults aged 18 to 20 years. JAMA Pediatr. August 31, 2020. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.3182

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