KENOSHA — The Kyle Rittenhouse trial has reignited the debate over the minimum legal age to purchase and possess a gun. An op-ed in Wednesday’s Kenosha News made the case for moving that threshold from 18 to 21.
Rittenhouse was 17-years-old when he brought an AR-15 to downtown Kenosha to protect businesses during unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse is now awaiting a verdict in his double-homicide trial that includes five felony counts.
Advocates for stronger gun laws believe raising the legal age to buy and possess guns makes sense nationwide because younger people’s brains are still developing and that affects their judgment. Meanwhile, gun rights proponents say 18-year-olds should be allowed to protect themselves.
The federal legal drinking age changed from 18 to 21 more than 35 years ago and Anneliese Dickman believes it’s time for minimum age restrictions on guns to follow suit.
"We know a lot more about brain development now than we have ever known before and we know that the risk of dying from a gunshot wound is greatest between ages 17 and 21,” Dickman said. “So we do think that would be a strong policy that would help save lives.”
Dickman is with the Brady Campaign, a national organization that advocates for stronger gun laws. She points to a Gifford Law Center study that found 18 to 20-year-olds make up just four percent of the country’s population, but that same age group accounts for 17 percent of gun-related homicides.
“After the Parkland shooting, we saw a lot of big chains like Walmart and Dick's and Kroger make the internal decision that they won't see to people under 21 so a law would require everyone to behave in that way."
Federal law currently requires licensed firearm dealers to only sell handguns to buyers who are 21 and older. Federal law allows people to purchase long guns like rifles and shotguns when they are 18.
“(Federal law) doesn’t say anything about private sales, and in Wisconsin, we know there are a lot of private sales between folks,” Dickman said.
Several states have implemented stricter laws on legal gun ages such as Illinois and Florida, where you have to be 21 to purchase any type of gun.
“I think the Kyle Rittenhouse case just shows that people at his age still have that right to self defense and still have the need for self defense,” Nik Clark said.
Clark is the president of Wisconsin Carry Inc., an organization dedicated to pushing for advancements in gun rights.
Clark says he’s strongly opposed to the proposed minimum age increase.
“You can go to war and die for your country, but then you can’t come back to your own country and own a rifle or a shotgun? And again, depending on what the actual details of a law would be. And for that reason, I think it’s unrealistic,” he said.
Clark believes this proposal would have a major impact on Wisconsin hunters under the age of 21 because they wouldn’t be able to purchase their own gun and they would need to be supervised. Gun violence prevention advocates say gun possession for hunting purposes would like not be affected if federal law were to change.