Juveniles are rarely prosecuted for breaking federal laws, Hawaii-based federal agents say.
So the 14-year-old Pearl Highlands Intermediate student who brought a handgun to school and injured two peers probably won’t face federal charges for illegal possession of a firearm.
“It’s pretty rare that the federal government would prosecute a juvenile,” says Jordan Lowe, resident agent-in-charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ (ATF) Hawaii office.
Instead, federal law enforcement agencies support juvenile prosecutions in state courts, officials say.
Among other duties, ATF — an agency under the U.S. Department of Justice — enforces the Gun Control Act of 1968, a federal law that regulates the firearms industry and firearms owners.
By law, it is illegal for juveniles — individuals under 18 years old — to knowingly possess handguns.
The Pearl City eighth grader committed a federal crime simply by possessing the Glock handgun involved in Monday’s incident, even though it was registered to a man from Alewa Heights. In theory, the boy could face federal charges.
But because the investigation into the incident remains open, federal officials said they could not comment on the case.
In 20 Years, No Federal Gun Charges Against Local Juveniles
The federal prosecution of juveniles is not unheard of. Juveniles have been prosecuted in federal court for particularly egregious acts, Lowe says.
But it’s unclear that Monday’s incident rises to that level.
“The Federal system is not equipped” to handle juveniles, said Hawaii-based FBI Special Agent Tom Simon. “There’s just not a good system in place to deal with minors.”
And Lowe says that, in the roughly 20 years that he has worked in the ATF Hawaii office, federal gun charges have never been brought against a local juvenile.
Typically, when a juvenile does commit a federal crime, federal law enforcement agencies like ATF and the FBI will simply “facilitate a successful prosecution in state courts,” Simon said.
The Pearl City juvenile was arrested for and charged with attempted murder under state law. According to police, the gun discharged after the boy pointed it at another student, who pushed the gun away with his hand. That student, and one other, suffered minor injuries.
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