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Opinion It’s common sense to raise the minimum age for purchasing rifles

The silhouette of an AR-15-style rifle is part of signage for a gun store in Yuma, Ariz. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

The back-to-back massacres at a Buffalo grocery store and a Texas elementary school have brought into sharp focus the disparity in federal gun law that forbids people younger than 18 from buying handguns but allows them to purchase semiautomatic rifles. That someone too young to buy alcohol or cigarettes is allowed to buy weapons designed for war makes no sense. If ever a loophole cried out to be closed, it is this dangerous distinction. Congress must make it a top priority in any package of reforms.

Recent mass shootings — at least seven more occurred over the weekend — have increased pressure on Congress. The House is poised to pass a raft of gun-control measures, including raising the minimum age for rifle purchases, but the Democratic-led package will likely fail because of Republican opposition in the Senate. There is hope — tempered by past failures to enact gun control after other high-profile mass shootings — that negotiations between a small group of senators will result in a modest bill that would include some toughening of federal gun laws along with school security and mental health measures. Key senators, The Post’s Mike DeBonis reported, said a gun deal could be within reach.

Unfortunately, dealing with the danger posed by assault weapons doesn’t appear to be in the mix, a mistake that needs to be rectified. President Biden is right that the best approach would be to ban what has become the weapon of choice of mass murderers, but, failing that, the minimum age for purchasing them needs to be raised. Six of the nine deadliest mass shootings in the United States since 2018, the New York Times reported, were committed by people 21 or younger, a shift from earlier decades when most mass-casualty shooters were men in their mid-20s, 30s or 40s.

Only six states — Florida, Washington, Vermont, California, Illinois and Hawaii — have increased the minimum purchase age for long guns to 21. Florida acted after a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 and wounded 17 more people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The governor who signed the measure into law was Republican Rick Scott, now a senator. One would have hoped he would be calling for Congress to follow suit, particularly since he was critical of Washington inaction when he signed the law and was running for Senate. “If you look at the federal government, nothing seems to have happened there. You go elect people, you expect them to represent you, get things done,” then-Gov. Scott said. Now, however, he says states should decide the matter.

More encouraging was the support for raising the age to 21 expressed by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who also said he is open to backing a ban on assault weapons. And in Texas, major Republican donors joined other conservatives in signing an open letter calling on Congress to increase gun restrictions, including raising the minimum age for gun purchases. While Senate Democrats no doubt will have to compromise if there is to be any hope of getting a new gun law enacted, they should not give ground on this common-sense reform.

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Editorials represent the views of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

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