- The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee moved forward a bill that allows 18-year-olds to buy rifles and other long guns.
- The age limit was raised to 21 by state lawmakers following the shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
- The move came days after a federal appeals court upheld the age limit following a challenge from the National Rifle Association.
- It wouldn’t change the age limit on handguns. Federal law requires people be 21 years old to buy those.
TALLAHASSEE — After a shooter killed 17 people in Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, Florida lawmakers defied the influential National Rifle Association and passed the first state gun restrictions in decades.
Now, a half-decade later, legislative Republicans are trying to peel back one of the measures intended to prevent similar tragedies.
While federal law already prohibited people younger than 21 to buy handguns, the measure in question extended that age limit to the sale of rifles and other long guns, like shotguns and AR-15s, the semi-automatic weapon legally bought and used by the 19-year-old shooter. But legislation — House Bill 1543 — approved by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Monday would push that limit back to 18 years old.
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The age limit measure was part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, a half-billion dollar package with a threefold focus: addressing gun laws, school safety and mental health. Signed into law by former Gov. Rick Scott and criticized by Democrats who said it didn’t go far enough, the law also included a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and stricter gun ownership measures for those with mental health problems.
Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, who filed the bill, voted for that law back in 2018.
“There were provisions in that bill that I really liked,” Payne said. “But I feel like it’s a infringement upon 18, 19, 20-year-olds constitutionally.”
Federal law currently requires that someone who purchases a long gun be 18, and the majority of states follow this standard. It is still legal in Florida to gift someone under 21 a firearm with restrictions.
Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said it could save lives.
“If a 19- or 20-year-old single mother, especially in a rural area like where I live, six or eight miles out in the country, she ought to be able to buy a firearm to defend her and her small child,” Brannan said.
Democrats voted against the bill, countering it could do the opposite.
“We are having shooting after school shooting after school shooting. There are children who are dying in my district, and this gun violence is happening by 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds,” said Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, D-St. Petersburg. “We’re slapping people in the face when we’re saying, ‘Welp, let them go and have a gun.'”
According to an analysis of government data by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group, 18- to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at three times the rate of those 21 and older.
Meanwhile, analysis by the RAND Corporation, which was touted by Payne, found no “qualifying studies” that minimum age requirements affect violent crime numbers. But the research organization did find they may decrease self-inflicted gun deaths, which make up the majority of gun deaths.
The Criminal Justice Subcommittee vote came days after a federal appeals court upheld the law years after the NRA challenged it.
“The NRA also looks forward to the Florida Legislature addressing the issue and removing this unconstitutional ban,” said organization spokeswoman Amy Hunter.
Catherine Allen, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student present for the shooting, spoke against the bill during the meeting but wasn’t surprised that it passed.
“I saw it as inevitable,” said Allen, now a senior at Florida State University and a volunteer with Students Demand Action, which is focused on gun violence prevention. “I think with our current Legislature there is a focus on the NRA, on the gun industry, and less of a focus on what young people want.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.
USA Today Network-Florida government accountability reporter Douglas Soule is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at DSoule@gannett.com. Twitter: @DouglasSoule