When I was fourteen, I got my driver’s license, and at that time, nearly every teenager I knew got their license as well. It was the age that the State of Texas believed I had the maturity and discipline to be set free on the open road. Unfortunately for me, I did not own a car, and my parents were not going to loan me the family car, so my freedom was greatly limited. Nevertheless, I had my freedom. Much has changed since that time, and the State of Texas has since decided teenagers need to be sixteen years of age, complete a driver’s education course, and watch the Impact Texas Teens video before being allowed to drive a car. A good decision I think, and based on my limited research, a decision that teenagers do not object to.
When I have the opportunity, I ask teenagers who are not yet driving, “When are you going to get your driver’s license?” Generally, they tell me “In couple of years”, as though they are not thinking much about it. I then goad them with the statement that I got mine when I was fourteen, and I think they should get theirs, too. This often draws sideways looks from their parents, but the teenagers seem not to care much about it one way or another, and they do not express any disappointment at not being able to driver at an earlier age. So, according to my research, they merely accept the limits imposed on them.
I purchased my first gun at Ed’s Bait Stand before I got my driver’s license. I was between the age of twelve and fourteen, but I am not certain of the age. I paid $18 for a nine-shot, 22 caliber revolver. Although second-hand, it was a great target pistol. As I recall, there was no background check or paperwork. At that time, the State of Texas believed I had the maturity and discipline to purchase a firearm. However, time has changed things, particularly regarding the maturity and the discipline level of teenagers. While there are many intelligent young people, there are many that are lacking in emotional maturity and discipline, and all are lacking in wisdom that comes from life experience. Why else would Bernie Sanders have legions of young followers? Why else would a thirty-something year old be crying because of a loss at the Winter Olympics if not a lack of discipline and emotional maturity? Time has changed things, and laws have changed, too.
Currently, in Texas, you must be eighteen years old and pass a background check to purchase a firearm, and you must be twenty-one to purchase a pistol. There are other restrictions as well. If you are a convicted felon, you cannot purchase a gun; however, five years after the sentence is completed, convicted felons can purchase guns. Additionally, if a person is under indictment for an offense with a penalty in excess of one year in jail, that person cannot purchase a firearm. Also, those who are deemed “mentally unfit” by the state are prohibited from owning a gun, so the laws have changed since my childhood. The question remains, are the changes adequate? Do contemporary eighteen-year-olds have the maturity and discipline needed to purchase a gun? Should a convicted felon ever be allowed to own a gun? Perhaps the most complicated of all, what mental condition is used to determine who is “mentally unfit”, and is that determination adequate? Moreover, are the laws enforceable and are they enforced?
Certainly, these are good questions, and just as certainly I do not have the answers. However, based on my observations, I would suggest raising the age to purchase a firearm may be in order. I could not help but notice over the last week that students across the country were demanding changes to gun laws. Also, as I mentioned previously, teenagers do not object to driving restrictions, so they are likely not going to object to additional age restrictions on purchasing a firearm. Raising the age to twenty-one to purchase firearms, with an exemption for military service personnel, should not be difficult to agree to. Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods are now requiring all purchasers of guns to be twenty-on years old.
I know this idea will be bothersome to some, but I challenge you to do the following. The next time you are asked if you want to super-size your order by a young person at a fast-food restaurant, ask yourself if this person should be purchasing firearms. Or, when the person with the cell phone in the faded rear pocket is bagging your groceries, ask yourself if this person should be allowed to purchase a firearm. I think if you are honest with yourself, you too may question the current age restriction. After all, age is not a guarantor of maturity, but it is a guarantor of immaturity. The question is, what age?
By way of disclaimer I should say that I have owned several guns throughout my life, and they have all exhibited a high degree of maturity and discipline. Not once have my guns slipped out under the cover of darkness and gone on a shooting spree, injured an innocent bystander, or killed a police officer. It is just this level of maturity, discipline and responsibility that is requisite to gun ownership. After all, in his first address to Congress, George Washington said, “A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined.”
Until next time…