All states limit the right to purchase, own, or possess weapons to some extent, though restrictions vary widely from state to state. States commonly make it a crime to possess specific types of weapons, to possess weapons in specified locations, or to use weapons in a prohibited manner. When juveniles illegally possess weapons, they can be sent through the juvenile justice system and even charged in adult criminal court in some cases.
Criminal laws apply to adults and juveniles. But when juveniles break the law, their cases are typically handled differently than those of adults. Most of the time, juveniles are sent through the juvenile court system, where the aim is to counsel, support, and rehabilitate, rather than punish.
Adults who violate weapons laws face penalties such as jail, prison, probation, or fines in criminal courts. Juveniles who violate weapons laws are more likely to receive supervision and services in juvenile court in an attempt to rehabilitate the young offender.
Each state and the federal government ban certain kinds of dangerous weapons. Federal law typically focuses on firearms, but states often restrict many other categories of weapons. State laws prohibiting weapons vary significantly, but often ban adults and juveniles from possessing weapons like explosives, exploding projectiles, switchblade knives, brass knuckles, and any weapon prohibited under federal law. States also usually have their own gun laws.
Possession of firearms is a Second Amendment right, but it's not an unlimited right. Each state and the federal government imposes some minimum age requirements for gun possession. Federal law prohibits the possession of a handgun or handgun ammunition by any person under the age of 18 with some exceptions for specified activities. Federal law has no minimum age for the possession of long guns or long gun ammunition. (18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(2),(3),(5) (2023).)
Many states and the District of Columbia also impose minimum age requirements, some of which go beyond federal law and prohibit the purchase and possession of handguns and long guns by anyone under the age of 21. Gifford Law Center, an anti-gun violence organization, has compiled a summary of state minimum age laws.
States might also prohibit children from owning or possessing non-powder guns, like BB and pellet guns, without parental consent or adult supervision. Depending on the state, the term "child" is defined as being anywhere from under 18 years old to under 12 years old.
Many juvenile weapons laws allow for exceptions. For example, under federal law, a juvenile (under 18) can temporarily possess a handgun and ammunition if the juvenile is using the handgun for:
(18 U.S.C. § 922(x)(3) (2023).)
Possession means both physically carrying a weapon on you or having a weapon in an area that is under your control. For example, a student who brings a gun to school in a backpack is in possession of the weapon. And if that same student brings the gun to school and stores it in a locker, that's also considered possession even if the student is away from the locker.
Juvenile courts have wide discretion in determining the appropriate sentence (usually called a "disposition order") for a juvenile offender. If a judge finds that there's enough evidence to show the juvenile committed an offense, it will find the charge true (similar to a guilty finding in adult court). The judge will then impose a sentence aimed primarily at rehabilitating the juvenile. Here are some possible actions a judge might take, and in any given case, there might be more than one.
Choose your state from the list below to find information about your state's laws regarding guns.