Emotions in the gun debate are high. A national movement using the hashtag #NeverAgain and marching under the banner of “March for Our Lives” has risen to the forefront of the discussion. The outspoken Parkland survivors are leading them towards increased demands for gun reform. An atmosphere is being engendered where even a former Supreme Court Justice has gone so far as to suggest a full repeal of the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, millions of law-abiding citizens who choose to own and carry firearms for both recreational purposes and for self-defense are growing in their anxiety and frustration. They worry that those calling for gun reform wish to infringe upon their inalienable rights and punish them for the crimes of others.
Setting aside some of the more unrealistic demands of either side, it is important that we take a hard look at any realistic ideas presented to determine their efficacy and weigh the possible effects upon average citizens. One particular measure at lawmaker’s fingertips and one which has considerable popular support is the idea of limiting the ability to purchase firearms for adults between the ages of 18 and 21. Many state’s already have laws which limit the purchase of handguns for this age group and many people feel it is a reasonable idea to expand this limitation to include semi-automatic long guns, colloquially called assault rifles or assault weapons.
Personally, I have concerns with this approach, not only because of my personal support for the right to bear arms but because of the precedence such actions make as it relates to how government treats its youngest voting citizens.
Since 1971, the age when American citizens become fully privileged and voting members of our society has been 18. While there still might be a few status laws, such as school truancy or alcohol purchase and consumption, there is little precedence for treating citizens between the ages of 18 and 21 any different in the eyes of the law as it pertains to rights set forth in the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution. That is to say that an 18-year old reporter is no less protected by the freedom of the press than a 22-year old reporter, an 18-year old protestor is no less protected by the freedom to peaceably assemble than a 22-year old protestor, and college students have no less of a right to freedom of speech, freedom of privacy, or freedom of religion than anyone else in American society. Considering all of this, I do not see the logic in believing that this thinking does not extend to all rights listed in the Constitution. I have found no portion of the legal framework of our government where it is established that a segment of our citizens can be carved out as a separate class of people whose rights can be limited at the same time those rights are maintained by others. And further, if we indeed establish that a single right can be limited, I see no realistic constraint that can be maintained which keeps other rights from being similarly limited. It is possible that such an action could create a scenario where American citizens between the ages of 18 and 21, a demographic chiefly consisting of College-age students, loses any reasonable expectation that the Bill of Rights applies to them just as it applies to their fellow citizens.
I welcome the debate about firearms and about the 2nd amendment, but I would suggest caution in limiting rights in a segment of the population that are still afforded to most citizens. College students should be careful to support actions which could truly carve out their own unique status as young second-class citizens.