How Old You Have to Be to Buy or Own a Gun in Every State

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Laws imposing minimum age requirements for the possession and purchase of firearms are intended to reduce access to firearms by young people. These laws are also on the books to lower the number of suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings among America’s youth. 

Young people are at serious risk of becoming involved in violent acts against themselves or others. According to data from Giffords Law Centers, gun suicides among minors have soared 81% between 2012 and 2021. Data also suggests that young people disproportionately commit gun homicides. According to Giffords, which extrapolated statistics from FBI reports and U.S. Census, 18-to-20-year-olds, who represent just 4% of the U.S. population, account for 17% of known homicide offenders. (These are the 24 states where gun-related crimes are surging.)  

To find out the ages at which you can buy and own a gun in every state (plus D.C.), 24/7 Tempo consulted data compiled by the Giffords Law Centers, the National Rifle Association, TheHill, and the gun enthusiast website Pew Pew Tactical. State minimum age laws distinguish between purchasing a handgun or a long gun and possessing one. In many cases, there are no age requirements for the possession of a long gun (rifle, shotgun). 

Although federal law prohibits licensed dealers from selling long guns (shotguns, rifles) to those under 18 years old, there is no federal regulation of the sale of long guns by unlicensed dealers or individuals to minors. Similarly, while federal law prohibits handgun sales by licensed dealers to people under 21, unlicensed dealers or individuals are prohibited only from selling handguns to people under 18. Federal law aside, however, many states have imposed a minimum age for the purchase of all firearms, including both handguns and long guns, regardless of where they are purchased.

Exceptions are granted in many places for those under the minimum age who are police officers, members of the National Guard or active military, and holders of concealed-carry permits.

Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Washington, and the District of Columbia all have minimum-age requirements for the possession of handguns that are stricter than the federal minimum age limit of 18. (These are the states with the strictest gun control laws.)

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