If you’re 18, the law says you can’t buy a handgun. But you can buy a handgun without breaking the law. This paradox exists thanks to a little-noticed manifestation of the so-called gun show loophole, which keeps government regulations out of private gun sales.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 made it illegal for a gun dealer to sell handgun to anyone under the age of 21. “Sales of handguns and ammunition for handguns are limited to persons 21 years of age and older,” the ATF’s official Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide states. But the agency’s regulations only apply to federally licensed firearms dealers, not to non-professional private sellers.
“A high school senior in most states can go to a gun show, go online, or any other place that they might find a private seller and lawfully purchase a gun that they couldn’t otherwise at a gun dealer,” explained David Chipman, a former ATF special agent who now works with Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
“That is correct,” confirmed George Semonick of the ATF. “Under federal law, it’s not unlawful for an 18-year-old to posses a handgun,” Semonick explained to Salon, though some states have their own age requirements for handgun possession.
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