The House passed legislation that would lower the legal age to buy a rifle or long gun from 21 to 18, resurrecting emotional debate over gun laws. Democrats scolded Republicans for rolling back part of the gun control measures passed into law after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland in 2018.
“The blood of people — not hunters, or animals or whatever … but human beings will be on your hands,” said Rep. Felicia Robinson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, during the debate.
The bill (HB 1543) passed 69-36, with three Republicans — Reps. Linda Chaney of St. Pete Beach, Karen Gonzalez Pittman of Tampa and Vicki Lopez of Miami — joining Democrats to vote against it. It now heads to the Senate. However, there is no companion legislation in the upper chamber and the issue hasn’t been heard in committee, meaning its chances of passing in the final week of Session are slim.
GOP supporters defended the bill as restoring rights to 18-20 year olds, allowing them to protect themselves.
“This bill comes down to a discussion of the friction that exists between freedom and security,” said Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican. “The right of self-defense is not for the privileged alone. It is for all of us.”
In response to the mass shooting in Parkland, which left 17 dead including 14 teen students, Florida Republicans and Democrats crafted an omnibus bill that included many provisions for school safety as well as three gun control measures: reducing the age to buy long guns from 21 to 18, banning bump stocks and extending the waiting period to buy a gun to three days.
The National Rifle Association filed suit immediately after then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in a three-judge ruling, but the NRA has asked for the full court to review the case.
Emotions ran high throughout current debate, as Democrats accused Republicans of rolling back measures that worked to prevent another Parkland-style massacre.
“I went to 15 of those funerals,” said Rep. Robin Bartleman, a Weston Democrat who offered an amendment to neuter the bill. “Please, this is an opportunity to do the right thing.”
Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican who sponsored the bill, pointed to the other parts of the post-Parkland bill, including hundreds of millions for school safety programs, increased funding for mental health programs and red flag laws to allow police to remove firearms from someone who might be a danger to themselves or others.
“The interventions we put in place are the model for the U.S.,” Payne said.
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