Bill to repeal Florida's under-21 gun ban clears House committee

Bill to repeal Florida's under-21 gun ban clears House committee
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

In the wake of the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida five years ago, the Florida legislature approved a ban on gun sales to adults under the age of 21, along with establishing a “red flag” firearms seizure law. The law forbidding firearm sales to young adults was almost immediately challenged in court by the National Rifle Association, and just last week the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, ruling that the law fits with the historical tradition of the right to keep and bear arms by pointing to several state laws passed in the 19th century. Other judges have found similar laws forbidding the owning or carrying of firearms by young adults are unconstitutional, and the legality of these laws could ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

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There’s also a significant chance that the NRA lawsuit could be mooted before SCOTUS has the opportunity to weigh in, however. The Florida legislature is considering a bill that would repeal the gun ban for young adults, and on Monday the legislation cleared a key hurdle in the House.

With backing from Speaker Paul Renner, a House panel on Monday approved a bill that would lower the minimum age from 21 to 18 to buy rifles and other long guns in Florida.

The bill (HB 1543) would reverse part of a 2018 law that set the minimum age at 21 after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Nikolas Cruz, then 19, used a semi-automatic rifle to carry out the attack.

The Republican-controlled House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 12-5 along party lines Monday to approve the bill. Under the 2018 law, people under 21 can receive rifles and other long guns as gifts but cannot purchase them.

“The Florida House is restoring the ability of young adults to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Renner, R-Palm Coast, said in a prepared statement after the vote. “Florida allows 18- to 20-year-old adults to obtain a long gun by having it gifted to them. This bill expands Second Amendment rights and improves public safety, because it requires young adults who have the intent of purchasing a long gun to go through the background check process that is consistent with Florida law.”

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As Renner noted, the current law in Florida doesn’t ban adults between the ages of 18-and-20 from possessing a long gun. It just prohibits them from buying one from an FFL. As a practical matter the statute has little-to-no effect on violent criminals, but from a constitutional perspective the law is deeply troubling, despite the Eleventh Circuit’s assertion that the ban comports with the Second Amendment. Repealing the law is the right thing to do, but don’t expect Democrats in Tallahassee to get on board.

But opponents questioned why the Legislature would reverse course five years after including the 21-year-old minimum age in a broad school safety bill that passed quickly after the Parkland shooting. Federal law prevents people under 21 from buying handguns.

“I just find it, when 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, that we are slapping people in the face when we’re saying, well, let them go have a gun,” Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, D-St. Petersburg, said.

But House bill sponsor Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, said the state has the authority to set the minimum age. Payne said he voted for the 2018 law because it included school safety measures that he supported.

“I feel like it’s an infringement upon 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds constitutionally to not allow them to have rights to firearms, long guns, I would say shotguns and rifles,” Payne said.

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I’d ask the Democratic representative just how many of the perpetrators of the crimes in her district lawfully obtained or possessed a firearm at the time. My guess is not many, and I guarantee that the vast majority of adults younger than 21 in her district do not have criminal records or are otherwise prohibited from gun ownership. Singling out all young adults and blocking their ability to legally purchase a firearm because a small number of individuals in that age group are committing violent crimes is like barring adults between the ages is like banning adults between the ages of 21 and 24 from buying a car or alcohol because that age group is the most likely to drive drunk.

I doubt Florida Democrats would be willing to back either of those restrictions, but since this is the Second Amendment we’re talking about they’re all too eager to continue chilling the rights of young adults. Thankfully, they’re not really in a position to block good bills like this given the Republican majority. Whether enough Republicans are willing to back the repeal, however, is another story… especially with the current intra-party fight over the scope of the permitless carry legislation revealing some divides in the GOP caucus on 2A issues.

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