President Joe Biden delivered a national address on Thursday night denouncing the nation’s gun violence and calling for reforms. Among other potential changes like red flag laws and importation bans, the president proposed raising the legal firearm purchasing age from 18 to 21.
Biden accurately summarized that firearm violence caused more deaths among school-age children in the last two decades than active-duty police and military. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data agree with this, although homicides and suicides are both concentrated heavily in the late teenage years.
Nationally, the firearm homicide rate among people under 21 years old does not match the rate of gun ownership in each state. For under-21 suicides, however, it matches almost exactly.
The RAND Corporation estimated the percentage of a state’s adults who lived in a household with at least one firearm in it in 2016.
Upper Mountain, upper Great Plains and southern states have the nation’s highest rates. Montana has the highest, with 65% of adults living in a household with a firearm. Wyoming, Idaho, West Virginia and Alaska round out the top five. New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Rhode Island and New York have the nation’s lowest gun ownership rates.
Each of these states has a correspondingly low or high rate of under-21 suicide. The data does not show whether these suicides were committed with a weapon the victim purchased or another’s.
Under-21 suicides are concentrated heavily in the upper years of teens who would be affected by a potential change of gun purchasing age. Two-thirds are 18, 19 or 20.