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Bill to Lower Age for Rifle Purchases Passes House, Threatening Reversal of Post-Parkland Gun Law

Republicans in the Florida House are pushing to lower the legal age of purchase for firearms from 21 to 18. Observers say the bill is expected to die, and one opponent calls it 'the height of insensitivity and callousness' to have introduced it at all.

Photo by Alex Radelich

By Cameron Priester | MediaLab@FAU

Mar 4, 2024

Just past the six-year anniversary of the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Republicans in the Florida House are trying to upend changes made after the shooting that once stood as the deadliest school shooting in American history. 

House Bill 1223, which would lower the legal age to purchase a rifle or shotgun from 21 to 18, passed through the House by a vote of 76-35 on Friday and was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

However, opponents say the bill, which would take effect on July 1, is likely to die on the vine.

“It’s not uncommon that socially conservative bills pass in the house and die in the Senate,” said Dan Sweeney, deputy opinions editor of the Sun Sentinel, who covered the Florida legislature from 2014 to 2020. “The Senate tends to be a moderating force.”

Without a companion bill in the Senate, opponents say, HB 1223 is unlikely to make it anywhere near the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

It’s not even a viable piece of legislation because it has no Senate companion, and yet we’re doing this anyway?” said Rep. Dan Daley (D-Coral Springs), a graduate of Stoneman Douglas. “What I find offensive is the fact that it’s not a viable piece of legislation and we’re still putting my community and others through this, just for the sake of political rhetoric.” 

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Rick Scott, the then-governor, approved a flurry of bipartisan amendments to the state's gun laws. The measures provided funding for increased school security and established a “red flag law,” however, the most notable of the reforms was the raising of the legal purchase age from 18 to 21.

“It was the largest step forward for gun violence prevention in 20 years in this state,” Daley said. “Facts and data show very clearly that a majority of school shootings are carried out by individuals aged 18 to 21 with a long gun. So, we raised the age to 21, and it has worked.”

“Why would we peel away what has worked?”

The Parkland shooter who left 14 students and three staffers dead was 18 at the time, and legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle he used in the massacre. 

But proponents of HB 1223 argue that a legal purchase age of 21 infringes on the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka), who cited his rural district’s affinity for “quail hunting.”

We have restricted the 2nd amendment rights of 18 to 20-year-olds, when they are of the accepted age of majority in our country,” Payne said. “Men and women can vote and sign up to defend our country, but can’t buy a long gun in our state for sporting or protection.”

Payne was one of 57 House Republicans that voted to approve raising the age of purchase to 21 in 2018, and concurred that, “the numerous steps that we put in place then have worked for our state.” But his sponsorship of HB 1223—and a similar bill last legislative session—marks a stark contrast from his stance in the immediate wake of Parkland. 

“The piece regarding the changing of age limits is something I am no longer in favor of,” Payne said. “We have successfully implemented the protections and procedures for Florida as a result of the horrific event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it is now time to ensure that all individuals are not punished for the actions of a few.”

Meanwhile, Daley and other gun control advocates blasted Payne’s attempt to alter the 2018 reforms that had support on both sides of the aisle as “the height of insensitivity and callousness.” 

“It’s a slap in the face to the victims’ families and the students who were on campus that day and survived,” said Patti Brigham, President of Prevent Gun Violence Florida. “It signals that there are lawmakers that care more about guns than people. They care more about guns than saving human lives.”

Payne introduced a nearly identical bill during the 2023 legislative session that passed through the House before dying at the Florida Senate Rules Committee. HB 1223, Daley said, is expected to meet the same fate. 

“The exact same bill was attempted to be pushed through last year,” Daley said. “It did not have a Senate companion and the Senate President was not willing to entertain it, and it died. My hope is that this is the case again this year.”

Being that this renewed attempt to lower the legal age of purchase to 18 is again expected to fizzle away, opponents argue that it serves only to reopen the scars borne by victims’ families. 

“It rips the scab off the wound,” Daley said. “I don’t know that my community will ever fully heal from something like a mass shooting. But every time we have to readdress one of these issues, it re-traumatizes some people.”

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