The kids are not alright. Children have been killed in another mass shooting, and once again a teenager pulled the trigger. As a coach for the Charlotte Junior Rifle Team, I teach young people how to shoot. And every day I worry a gun could be turned on them in school. It does not have to be this way.
Let’s start with one simple and bipartisan solution: raise the age to buy a rifle. By federal law, you must be 21 to purchase a handgun, but only 18 to buy a rifle. That’s exactly what the 18-year-old Buffalo shooter did, before killing 10 in a hate-filled rampage. And the 19-year-old shooter in Parkland, killing 17. Now, another teenager has perpetrated a massacre, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
As a coach, I do not speak for the organization, only as an NRA-qualified sharpshooter. I started shooting at 14, and traveled across the country to compete. I was surrounded by mentors and instructors who not only taught me the basics of marksmanship, but also the responsibility of gun ownership. We are leaving young people, especially young men, without any support while providing full access to AR-15s.
There is a reason every terrorist group across the world, from the Taliban to the Klan, recruits isolated young men. Extremism and violence, especially now in decentralized online spaces, can provide a cheap sense of identity, community, and purpose.
But there is a small window for radicalization: The average age of violent offenders is under 25 for nearly every offense. As the brain fully develops, most people age out of extremism and violence.
By offering access to rifles at an early age, our gun policy is aiding and abetting domestic terrorism. We are not giving community members, coaches, mental health specialists, and law enforcement officers enough time to intervene in these young men’s lives.
Raising the age to buy a long gun to 21 has been adopted by some states already. In 2018, then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill passed by the Republican-majority state legislature that raised the age to buy long guns to 21. Scott now represents Florida in the U.S. Senate and leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a group solely devoted to electing Republicans to the Senate.
Will he and his Senate colleagues from North Carolina, Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, support federal law to raise the age to buy rifles? President Trump even endorsed the idea in 2018. In a meeting with Senate leaders, he clearly explained why Congress had not acted to raise the age: “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA.” Trump later reversed his support after a meeting with the NRA.
I tell my students that the greatest life lesson of competitive shooting is consistency. When you identify patterns and understand misses on a target, you adjust until you are consistently hitting bullseyes. Today, children see the same pattern by politicians, shooting after shooting, and it always misses the mark. They see a consistent lack of political courage. Will we adjust?
Raising the age to buy rifles is an effective and bipartisan first step. We can only debate common-sense gun laws on common ground. We cannot resign ourselves or our children to the current reality of fear and anxiety in the classroom, church and grocery store. Let’s aim for something better.
Evan Bille lives in Charlotte and attends Union Presbyterian Seminary.