Top Republican in Florida Senate wants to keep gun control law in place

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Despite the huge legislative majorities for Republicans in Tallahassee, this has been a frustrating session for many gun owners and Second Amendment advocates in Florida. A permitless carry bill that’s ready for action on the floor of the House and Senate does not include a repeal of the state’s ban on openly carried firearms even though the only other states with similar prohibitions are the Democrat strongholds of Illinois and California, and the House sponsor of the legislation even threatened to pull the legislation completely after activists showed up at his door this past weekend.

Now State Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has come out in favor of keeping a gun control law approved in the wake of the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in place, even though the House Speaker says it’s time to repeal the measure banning adults under-21 from purchasing rifles and shotguns.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said Wednesday she does not support a proposal to lower the minimum age from 21 to 18 to buy rifles and other long guns in Florida.

“We don’t have it in the Senate,” Passidomo told reporters. “Nobody’s filed it.”

The House this week started moving forward with a bill (HB 1543) that 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.

Lawmakers included the age requirement for rifles and long guns in a broad school-safety bill that passed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting.

Passidomo said she has focused on issues in the law related to identifying and getting help for students who have serious mental and emotional issues to prevent such things as mass shootings.

Well, if that’s her focus then she shouldn’t have any problem with getting rid of the law that prevents young adults from exercising a constitutionally protected right. Clearly that’s not the case, but the Orlando Sentinel report on Passidomo’s objections didn’t actually include her reasoning (if any) for her objections.

It’s true that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld Florida’s law, in part by claiming it doesn’t amount to a complete prohibition on under-21s owning firearms because the law “only” bars them from purchasing one at retail. The appeals court also concluded that because some states in the Reconstruction Era banned minors from possessing firearms (and considered anyone younger than 21 to be a minor) that the state’s current ban on young adults purchasing firearms was similar enough in scope and rationale to pass constitutional muster.

Other courts around the country, on the other hand, have found that laws forbidding adults under-21 from possessing or carrying firearms do violate their Second Amendment rights, and the emerging splits in the lower courts may force the Supreme Court to step in at some point. But even if we acknowledge that, for now anyway, these gun bans are allowed under the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling, that doesn’t mean they’re good law.

In its decision, the Eleventh Circuit panel noted that while 18-to-20-year-olds make up about 4% of the population, that age group is estimated to make up about 15% of homicides and manslaughter arrests. Still, the vast majority of young adults will never be charged with a violent crime at all, much less one as serious as homicide, so why should every adult under the age of 21 lose their ability to purchase a firearm in the name of public safety? As I pointed out yesterday, drivers between 21-and-24-years of age are the most likely to be charged with a DUI, but I don’t see Passidomo or any other lawmaker calling to raise the driving or drinking age to 25.

While the court fights over under-21 gun bans will continue, Florida lawmakers have the chance to do the right thing and scrap their own statute. The law may have been put in place with the best of intentions, but it’s still depriving responsible adults of a fundamental right while doing little-to-nothing to prevent violent crime. I’m glad that Rep. Renner has seen the light, but if Passidomo blocks the bill from getting a fair hearing in the Senate Florida gun owners need to start thinking about a primary challenge for the Senate president.