TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - 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."
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.
Monday’s vote came after a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld the constitutionality of the 2018 law. The National Rifle Association has waged a long-running legal challenge, arguing that the 21-year-old minimum age violates the Second Amendment.
The appeals court traced a history of gun regulation dating to the Reconstruction era. It also pointed to people from age 18 to 21 being able to receive guns as gifts.
"To begin with, the act (the law) is no more restrictive than its forebearers: While the act burdens 18-to-20-year-olds’ rights to buy firearms, unlike its Reconstruction era analogues, it still leaves 18-to-20-year-olds free to acquire any type of firearm — including ‘the quintessential self-defense weapon,’ the handgun … in legal ways, as long as they don’t buy the weapons," Judge Robin Rosenbaum wrote in the opinion.
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.
As of Monday afternoon, a Senate version of the bill had not been filed.