Five years after the Florida Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott passed a package of gun reforms in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland school shooting massacre, a committee in the state House advanced a bill Thursday that would repeal one of those provisions – reducing the age to purchase rifles and other long guns from 21 to 18 years old.
The measure (HB 1543) would allow someone as young as 18 to be able to legally purchase a firearm from either a licensed dealer or a private seller.
However, federal law still prohibits purchasing a handgun under the age of 21.
The measure passed 16-6 in the House Judiciary Committee in its first of two stops in that chamber. However, there is no Senate version bill yet, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has said that she does not support the proposal.
The sponsor of the bill is Republican Bobby Payne of North Florida.
Broward County Democrat Dan Daley, a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said the issue was deeply personal to him and acknowledged that he was angry and flustered that the proposal was even up for discussion. He emphasized that in his opinion, nothing had changed since the Legislature reduced the age to purchase a firearm to 18.
He cited a number of statistics and studies indicating that most school shooters are younger than 21 and that medical research “has been clear for years” that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until 25.
“Nothing has changed,” Daley declared. “It’s not that in the last five years since the passage of the bill, it’s not since the last five years since the shooting at my alma matter that suddenly brain development has sped up – that the science has changed and suddenly 18-year-olds are as rational as 25-year-olds. Nothing has changed there.”
Daley went on to mention how many state lawmakers who voted for the bill that raised the age to purchase a long gun in Florida from 18 to 21 still remain in the Legislature, asking if the committee believed that they were wrong then.
House Speaker Paul Renner is one member of the Legislature who voted for the ban then but has now said he wants to reverse the age limit, and on Thursday so did committee member Thad Altman, a Brevard County Republican who served in the state Senate when that vote came up in 2018.
“I’m happy to see that we’re reversing that action today,” he said, adding that the package had dramatically increased the amount of psychological counseling in schools and created “red flag” provisions to take away firearms from people who are considered a danger to themselves or society.
“I don’t think that we need to penalize millions of young Americans between 18-21 for the actions of one individual,” Altman said. “I feel confident that the actions we took in that vote and the way we’ve implemented those things to protect our students, we can make this change today and feel that we’re doing the right thing.”
Those comments perplexed Tampa Democrat Dianne Hart, who says that there’s been gun violence in her community nearly every week since she began serving in the Florida House four years ago.
“You’re not changing the brains of kids under 21 years old,” she said. “You cannot legislate that. We just keep talking about, ‘well, you know, it’s not going to happen again.’ It’s bound to happen. It’s happening every single day out in communities throughout the state of Florida.”
Pinellas County Republican Berny Jacques stressed what other bill supporters said – that it was unfair to punish law-abiding people under 21 because of what happened in Parkland.
“And so off you are that single mom at 20 years old who has some deranged ex-boyfriend, you’re going to wish you had that right when he comes through that door at 2 a.m,” he said. “If you’re that gas station clerk who’s 18 or 19 years old in a high crime area, and a group of thugs come through who are armed, you’re going to wish you had that high-capacity rifle to protect yourself. That will do the trick.”
Immediately after the law passed in 2018 reducing the legal age to purchase a long gun in Florida from 21 to 18, the National Rifle Association challenged the law, alleging it violated the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. Earlier this month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled in favor of the state.
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