Should a kid ever possess a firearm? A parent is the one who should determine the answer to “should”… but even then, when is it legal? The lawyer answer is usually “it depends” since state laws differ and there are, of course, exceptions.
“Ever” is also a big word. A kid should generally not possess a firearm without an adult present. For example, some states allow a minor to hunt or to possess a firearm when used in self-defense, but NEVER if he or she has not been properly trained. If a parent or guardian is supervising and determines that a juvenile is responsible and understands firearms safety, then possession becomes legally possible.
The main issue is whether or not there is some legal prohibition. A person, whether adult or juvenile, cannot generally possess (own, have on their person, or have in their control) a firearm if certain conditions exist. Some of these conditions are…
- Been convicted of various offenses
- Considered mentally incompetent
- Under the influence of alcohol or drugs
And there are other situations that may apply. For example, a person under 18 in Washington State cannot possess a firearm unless an exception applies. Exceptions for kids under 18 in Washington include attendance at a hunter’s safety course or a firearms safety course. A minor can practice with a firearm at an approved range, in an organized firearm competition, or in performing with an organized group that uses firearms as a part of the performance. Similarly, hunting or trapping with a valid license is an exception. Additional exceptions include shooting in a permitted area (no trespassing!), so long as the person is either fourteen years of age or older, a holder of a hunter safety certificate, and is using a lawful firearm other than a pistol. A minor can travel with any unloaded firearm in the person’s possession to or from any lawful activity.
Keep in mind that a minor may possess a firearm only under the supervision of a parent, guardian, or other adult approved for the purpose by the parent or guardian. It gets tricky, though. A minor can possess a firearm on real property under the control of his or her parent, other relative, or legal guardian, if he or she has the permission of the parent or legal guardian to possess a firearm, and can even possesses a firearm for lawful use of force such as self-defense in his or her residence. Note that unless a legal exception applies, a person between 18 and 21 may possess a pistol only in his or her home, fixed place of business, or on real property under his or her control.
And then there is the question about employment. Federal law says, subject to state law, that a person under 21 years of age who is an employee of a licensed dealer, such as a manager or clerk, may sell handguns and ammunition suitable for use in handguns for the licensee. However, to sell handguns, a person less than 18 years of age must have the prior written consent of a parent or guardian and the written consent must be in the person’s possession at all times. Also, the parent or guardian giving the written consent may not be prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
So back to the question at hand, “Should kids possess guns?” The answer should include a discussion of the above items, and possibly others, before you make the decision. They certainly should not without some preparation and careful observance of the law. Consider the location, activity, and firearm involved as well as the legal status and safety training of the individuals involved. This will protect the kid…and everyone else too.