Florida House backs measure to lower gun-buying age

Gun Rights

The Florida House on Friday passed a measure that would lower the minimum age from 21 to 18 to buy rifles and other “long” guns, voting to scrap a high-profile change passed after a 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. 

Lawmakers included the gun restriction in a sweeping 2018 school-safety package after Nikolas Cruz, then 19, used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 17 students and faculty members and injure 17 others. 

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Federal law already barred people under 21 from buying handguns. During the debate on the plan to lower the age on Friday, House bill sponsor Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, said the measure “corrects the wrong we did in 2018.” Payne argued that the bill (HB 1543) would leave intact other provisions of the 2018 law that addressed mental health and school safety. 

“You see the gun as the problem,” Payne said. “I see the interventions and the policies as the answer.” 

But Democrats fiercely opposed lifting the age restriction, attributing it to helping the state avoid a repeat of the mass shooting in Broward County. State Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Democrat who was the mayor of Parkland at the time of the shooting, pleaded with her colleagues to keep the age restriction in place. She called the 2018 law a national “gold standard” for school safety. 

“This law has stood the test of time because we have not had another school shooting in the state of Florida, and I hope to God we never do so that children will no longer hide, hit the ground, when a balloon pops. … We are going down the wrong path here,” she said. 

With a week remaining in the 2023 legislative session, the measure faces an uncertain future. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has expressed opposition to the proposal. 

“I’ll see it when it comes over,” Passidomo told reporters prior to the House’s 69-36 vote Friday. 

Supporters of the bill have argued, in part, that the prohibition on people under 21 buying long guns violates the constitutional rights of young adults. 

The Republican-controlled Legislature’s 2018 decision was highly unusual in a state that had expanded gun rights over decades. 

The National Rifle Association immediately filed a challenge in federal court, arguing that the law violated the Second Amendment. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in 2021 upheld the constitutionality of the law. Walker said he was following legal precedent, though he also described the case as falling “squarely in the middle of a constitutional no man’s land.” The NRA appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based appeals court in March upheld the law. The NRA has asked the full court to reconsider the ruling.

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