What are they thinking? Don’t lower age for long-gun purchases

Gun Rights

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Editorials reflect the opinion of The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board, not of the Post newsroom.

At a time when mass shootings are erupting across the nation, the GOP majority in Florida’s House of Representatives has approved putting our residents in increased danger, by voting to lower the minimum age requirement for buying a long gun to 18 from 21.

House Bill 1543 passed April 28 by a vote of 69 to 36, along mostly party lines. It would reverse an age restriction that was enacted after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018, using an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. There hasn’t been a mass shooting at a Florida school since the age limit was changed.

If that massacre raised any awareness of the dangers of weapons proliferation, it was lost on the House majority. It does little good to say they’re beholden to the National Rifle Association and its money, even if they are. These partisans are adults, responsible for their votes, who argue that Second Amendment militia musketeer rights justify undoing legislation that might keep us and our children even a little safer.

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It’s not that this age limit is the be-all and end-all of gun regulation. It’s not. But it’s one small step that makes it that much harder for some disaffected, unrestrained teen to break more parents’ hearts.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fire arms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens. The Gun Violence Archive calculates that, as of April 30, there have been 185 mass shootings in the U.S. just this year.

But in Tallahassee this session we’ve seen only efforts to expand Florida’s gun culture. Some Republican lawmakers haven’t been satisfied to make it easier for almost anyone to walk the streets with a concealed weapon without a permit; they wanted to be able to wear that gun openly, for all to see and beware. Fortunately, uncharacteristically fearful of the optics, they backed off ‘open carry’ for now and slunk back into their saloons. But they did pass the ‘permit-less carry’ bill and now are taking aim at the 21-year age limit.

Florida Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, in a March op-ed piece, warned not just about the overall danger of loosening gun restrictions but of the impact the unequal application of the Second Amendment rights such bills supposedly embody would have on people of color. “In Palm Beach County, we saw firsthand what happens when an overzealous police officer hastily judged a Black man licensed to carry and attempting to defend himself, and opened fire,” Powell wrote. “Corey Jones never had a chance.”

The possible good news is that the GOP majority in the Florida Senate might not be in lockstep with the House on the age limit. Even they must appreciate how bad the optics are on this one, too, though that alone hasn’t stopped many legislative horror stories from advancing to the Governor’s desk for certain signing. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, indicated Friday, when it passed the House and was headed to the Senate, that she opposed the measure. But she added a “we’ll see….”

Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat whose district includes Parkland, put it succinctly on Monday. “It makes very little sense to come back five years later and change what has been working in our state, just because there are some people who are obsessed with guns in our Legislature and in Florida,” she told us. “It’s just pure politics. Public safety is what’s needed.”

At this point it must be clear that nothing will persuade the majority but the fear of losing our votes. Republicans who believe there is a balance to be found between personal rights and public safety must speak up, even if it means breaking ranks. The Democratic Party in this state must awaken from its long slumber and get registration drives into gear, before GOP efforts to dilute opposition through gerrymandering, ballot collection rules, early voting restrictions and other voter suppression tactics become impossible to overcome. The bleeding won’t stop itself.

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