Capitol Journal: It’s a bad idea to raise the minimum age for buying long guns. It’s an even worse idea to arm teachers

AR-15 Assault Rifles Sold At Utah Gun Shop
State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has introduced legislation to increase the legal age to 21 in California for buying any gun, including a shotgun or rifle with low ammo capacity.
(George Frey / Getty Images)

It’s not as screwy as arming teachers, but increasing the legal age for buying a rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21 is also off target.

If the aim merely is to prevent anyone under 21 from possessing a military-style assault weapon, it won’t work and doesn’t make sense. There are millions of such firearms already out there for the grabbing. And the vast majority of mass shootings are committed by older adults, anyway.

If the thinking is that semiautomatic weapons with high-capacity ammunition magazines are too deadly for 18-to-20-year-olds to be trusted with, then they’re also too dangerous in the hands of older folks. And they are.

For those who believe that all long guns — rifles and shotguns — should be denied to people under 21, that’s an unwarranted infringement on young adults’ rights.


That last sentence may sound faintly like a National Rifle Assn. echo, but so be it. Even the NRA can be right sometimes.

The call by the NRA and President Trump to arm teachers, however, is so absurd that even congressional Republicans are ducking.

Do we really want a schoolteacher to stand in front of a class looking like a Secret Service agent, eyes shifting, poised to draw at any moment? Because if she isn’t, she’ll be gone with the first shot. She’s standing there with a bull’s-eye on her chest. If she has a book in one hand and chalk in the other, it’s over immediately.

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My wife taught high school English for 38 years. I know what she’d have said if a principal suggested she take a gun-handling course and arm herself in class. Only I couldn’t have printed it in a family newspaper. She loved teaching and was excellent at it, but if she heard that some colleagues were packing, she probably would’ve quit and changed careers.

“Bringing more guns into schools is a misguided and dangerously flawed idea,” Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Assn., said in a prepared statement. “Thinking more firearms on our campuses is the answer is the most irresponsible solution you could imagine.”

That doesn’t mean schools shouldn’t load up with more security guards. But be prepared to pay higher taxes or take money away from educating children. California has more than 10,000 public schools, educating more than 6 million kids.

Another “simple” idea is to screen everyone for guns through airport-like magnetometers. Maybe have one entry choke point. But think about that. Have all the kids lined up like sitting ducks before anyone is X-rayed?

Just don’t ask teachers to play Rambo.

“Teachers don’t want to be armed, we want to teach,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We … would never have the expertise needed to be sharpshooters. No amount of training can prepare an armed teacher to go up against an AR-15….

“Anyone who pushes arming teachers doesn’t understand teachers and doesn’t understand our schools.”

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No, I suspect it’s just a way for them to avoid talking about what really needs to be done: banning possession — by anyone — of AR-15s and other mass-shooting weapons with high-capacity magazines.

In 2016, the California Legislature and voters separately approved a ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds. But the ban was blocked, at least temporarily, when a federal judge in San Diego issued a preliminary injunction sought by NRA attorneys.

Outlawing the purchase of an assault rifle only until a person turns 21, as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is proposing, seems misplaced.

“If you can’t buy a handgun or a bottle of beer,” she said, referring to the age limit for those purchases, “you shouldn’t be able to buy an AR-15.”

But no one at any age should be allowed to possess an AR-15. A civilian knockoff of the military M-16, its main purpose is to kill lots of people fast.

Feinstein did push through a ban on assault weapon purchases by anyone in 1994. But the law expired after 10 years, and Congress refused to renew it. Now she’s focusing on 18-to-20-year-olds because the recent mass killer at the Florida high school was 19.

But few mass shootings are committed by killers younger than 21 using rifles.


In Sacramento, state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) proposes taking an even bigger step. He introduced legislation Wednesday to increase the legal age to 21 in California for buying any gun, including a shotgun or rifle with low ammo capacity. A shooter with a hunting license would be exempt because he’d taken a gun safety course.

What about a skeet shooter? Or someone who just likes to plink tin cans out by the barn?

Doesn’t make sense that an 18-year-old can enlist in the Army and be armed with an automatic M-16 to fight terrorists, but can’t buy a bolt-action plinker back home until he’s 21.

In Florida, where the gun lobby usually prevails in the Legislature, a House committee bucked the NRA on Tuesday and approved a bill to raise the rifle-buying age from 18 to 21. This came after emotional testimony from parents of students killed in the school shooting.

The committee also voted to allow arming of teachers. But it rejected a ban on assault weapons.

Everyone needs to get their priorities straight: Let the teachers teach. Treat 18-year-olds like adults. Get rid of all assault weapons.

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