If you’re under 21, and you’re not in the military, you need to know that it’s illegal for you to possess, buy, or shoot a handgun. Period.
Several recent incidents of teenagers firing guns have police cracking down. In addition to two fatal shootings that Forest Park Police are investigating, a report of kids illegally firing a gun near Burks Road and City View Drive appeared on the Nextdoor app. Georgia law forbids shooting within 50 yards of a public highway or street.
Georgia’s new “constitutional carry” law, SB 319 also known as the Chairman John Meadows Act, does not mean that people under 21 can arm themselves with handguns. It was illegal for kids to have guns before the law passed, and it’s still illegal.
What the law says
The law only applies to “(a)ny person who is not prohibited by law from possessing a handgun or long gun.” The law specifically says that, if you’re under 21, you shall not carry a handgun. The only exception is if you are a member of the military who has finished basic training. Young people can only possess long guns, like rifles or shotguns, under very limited circumstances around hunting.
- If you are under 21, you are not allowed to buy, possess, or control a handgun, unless you are a member of the military who has finished basic training.
- No one with a criminal record can possess a handgun.
- If you are under 21, like anybody who is not a “lawful weapons carrier,” you can be fined $10,000 and get two to 10 years in prison for carrying on school property, like campuses, school buses, and sports stadiums.
- You can get one to 10 years in prison for carrying on a plane, bus, or train.
- You cannot carry a gun into most government buildings, hospitals, churches (unless the church allows it), state mental health facilities, within 150 feet of polling places during elections, college classrooms and offices, or on the property of anyone who does not want guns there. The same is true for lawful weapons carriers.
4 Basic Gun Safety Rules
1 Never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy.
2 Always treat every gun as if it were loaded
3 Keep your finger off the trigger until you place your sights on target and are ready to shoot.
4 Be sure of your target and what’s behind it.
A split-second mistake
Many people who went to prison for shooting somebody had been drunk or high at the time. Never pick up a firearm when you have been drinking, smoking marijuana, or doing any other legal or illegal drug. Caffeine jitters are enough to throw off your aim. When your nervous system is impaired, even a little bit, you are not able to control a gun precisely. You also have worse judgement when you’re drunk or high.
People under age 21, even into their mid-20s, do not have fully developed brains yet. The part of your brain that controls spur-of-the-moment behavior is still growing. That’s why teenagers–even “good kids”—get into fights, do things they regret later, and go from 0 to 60 in a split second. Arguments escalate quickly and people lose control. That’s a big reason why lawmakers are not willing to give minors the legal right to own handguns.
What’s more, young people are prone to react to whatever is right around them. If all they know is their neighborhood, and the neighborhood is violent, some kids tend to assume that violence is just how it is, and so they also become violent. If they are afraid of walking to school or if they are being bullied, they might look for an unsecured gun to carry as protection, even though they only have a basic “point-and-shoot” understanding of what happens when they pull the trigger.
What they don’t always see are the consequences once that bullet leaves the gun. They might not know what it means to live in prison for years as a young person. They might not have seen what it’s really like to get shot, not like H0llywood depicts it, but how the emergency room sees it.
Talk about gun safety
If you see an unsecured gun that does not belong to you, even if it’s in your own house or a friend’s house, do not touch it. It doesn’t matter whether the gun is lying on a table, hidden behind books on the shelf, or in a friend’s hand. Leave the area immediately and tell a responsible adult.
If you are under 21 and you are serious about wanting to learn how to shoot, consult with your parents about finding a certified firearms instructor through a reputable local gun range. Established groups like the National Rifle Association and the Civilian Marksmanship Program also offer youth shooting sports. You can access these programs through some groups like the Boy Scouts of America or some school-sponsored teams.
The NRA offers a gun safety program for young children called “Eddie Eagle.” However, a 2002 study found kids who completed the program were still as likely to pick up a gun as those who had not been through the program. Subsequent studies also found the program was not effective because young children did not apply the skills to real-life scenarios.
Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action have developed a program called Be SMART that teaches adults and young people about firearms safety:
- Secure all guns in your home and vehicles
- Model responsible behavior around guns
- Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes
- Recognize the role of guns in suicide
- Tell their peers to be SMART
Be SMART also has a wealth of resources, in English and Spanish, for parents and other responsible adults who want to talk to their kids about gun safety.
Read our companion piece about Forest Park’s efforts to crack down on gun violence.