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Most Americans Can Buy An AR-15 Rifle Before They Can Buy Beer

The Guardian, UK: ‘Most Americans Can Buy An AR-15 Rifle Before They Can Buy Beer’ By Lois Beckett. @loisbeckett

Americans have to be 21 before they can legally buy alcohol. But in most states, they can buy an AR-15 military-style rifle starting at age 18.

Federal law has stricter age requirements for buying handguns than for the military-style rifles that have become the weapon of choice for mass shootings. With some exceptions, Americans must be 21 to buy a handgun from a licensed dealer.

But the age limit is lower for long guns, a category that includes traditional hunting rifles, shotguns, and the military-style guns categorized under law as “assault weapons”. After a federal assault weapon ban lapsed in 2004, only seven states and the District of Columbia still have a continuing ban on such firearms.

Law enforcement officials said Nikolas Cruz, 19, who was charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida, used an AR-15 style rifle. Cruz was able legally to purchase an AR-15 about a year ago, according to a law enforcement official cited by Associated Press.

“It is absolutely striking that a young adult who is not legally able to buy alcohol can just walk into a gun store and, provided they pass a background check, they can buy a very high-powered and, in some cases, military-style weapon,” Lindsay Nichols, the federal policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told the Guardian.

Nichols said that laws that made it easier to buy long guns than handguns were designed at a time when military-style rifles were much less popular, and when teenagers were most likely to buy long guns for hunting.

“This is one of the many instances where our gun laws are out of date, and we need reform,” she said.

Massad Ayoob, a firearms expert, instructor and author, disagreed.

“I don’t think age has a damn thing to do with it,” he said. “I don’t think [the Parkland shooter] would have been less lethal at 22.”

Eighteen is “old enough to enlist in the armed forced and fight and die for your nation. It’s old enough to marry without your parents’ permission,” he said. “And in my younger days, in many states, 18 was old enough to buy a beer.”

Raising the legal drinking age to 21 helped save lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency, which cites research showing that states that increased the legal drinking age to 21 saw a 16% median decline in car crashes.

While AR-15 style rifles have become the weapon of choice for some of America’s most recent and deadly mass shootings, these military-style guns are still comparatively rarely used in everyday gun violence. Between 2010 and 2014, only 3.55% of gun murders were carried out with any kind of rifle, according to a Guardian analysis of FBI data. The majority of gun murders are still committed with handguns.

Laws mandating tighter restrictions on handgun purchase are linked to the association between handguns and street crime, which “usually involves handguns because they’re more easily concealable and more easily transportable”, Nichols said.

“The assumption was that rifles and long guns were not going to be used in crimes,” she said.

There are even fewer restrictions on owning long guns than there are on buying them. In all, 28 states have no minimum age requirement for owning a rifle, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which tracks state gun laws. Four states set the minimum age for owning a rifle or shotgun at between 14 and 16 years old. Florida requires residents to be 18 to own a long gun.

While changing age limits for gun purchase or gun ownership has not been an active issue at the state level in recent years, Nichols said: “Tightening up the age restrictions for gun purchases would be an easy fix, that could have a relatively significant impact on some kinds of gun violence.”

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