A Florida bill would lower the gun-buying age from 21 to 18, reversing part of a law passed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre

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Die-in against gun violence, Tampa. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (12 June 2018).

By Jim Saunders ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A House Republican on Thursday renewed an attempt to lower the minimum age from 21 to 18 for people to buy rifles and other long guns in Florida, potentially reversing part of a law that passed in the aftermath of the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, filed the proposal (HB 1223) for consideration during the 2024 legislative session, which will start Tuesday. The House passed a virtually identical bill during the 2023 session, but the Senate did not take up the issue.

The Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2018 approved a law that included increasing the minimum age to 21 after Nikolas Cruz, then 19, killed 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Cruz, who has been sentenced to life in prison in the murders, used a semi-automatic rifle to carry out the attack.

Federal law already prevented people under 21 from buying handguns.

The state law drew a legal challenge from the National Rifle Association, which contends that it violates Second Amendment rights. A federal district judge upheld the age restriction, but the case remains pending at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The attempt during the 2023 session to reverse the law was backed by House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast. In a March statement, Renner described the proposal as the House “restoring the ability of young adults to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

Before the House voted 69-36 to pass the bill in April, Payne said it “corrects the wrong we did in 2018.” He argued that the measure would leave intact other parts of the 2018 law that addressed mental health and school safety.

“You see the gun as the problem,” Payne said during a debate. “I see the interventions and the policies as the answer.”

But Democrats, such as Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, who was Parkland mayor at the time of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, opposed lowering the minimum wage. During a debate, Hunschofsky called the 2018 law a national “gold standard” for school safety.

“This law has stood the test of time because we have not had another school shooting in the state of Florida, and I hope to God we never do so that children will no longer hide, hit the ground, when a balloon pops. … We are going down the wrong path here,” she said.

The Senate did not take up the bill after President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she did not support it. A Senate version of Payne’s 2024 bill had not been filed as of early Thursday afternoon.

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