Florida GOP’s Controversial Bid to Lower Rifle Purchasing Age

In a contentious move, Florida state House Republicans have passed a bill that would repeal the gun violence prevention law established five years ago in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland. House Bill 1543, which passed with a 69-36 vote, aims to lower the age limit for purchasing rifles or “long” guns (including assault rifles) from 21 to 18. The bill is now headed to the state Senate for consideration, and if signed into law, the provisions would take effect on July 1 of this year.

Rep. Bobby Payne (R), who introduced the bill, claims it “corrects the wrong we did in 2018.” However, the bill faced strong opposition from Democrats and three Republicans who voted against it. It’s important to note that federal law mandates individuals must be 21 or older to purchase handguns in the U.S., but states can determine the age limit for purchasing rifles or “long” guns.

In a rare bipartisan move in 2018, Florida increased the minimum age for purchasing rifles to 21 in response to the Parkland mass shooting, where a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 individuals. The law specifically targeted rifles, such as AR-15-style rifles, which are commonly used in mass shootings.

As of Tuesday evening, the bill has yet to be considered or discussed by a committee in the state Senate. Governor Ron DeSantis (R), who typically favors loosening gun laws, has not yet indicated his stance on the bill. Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R) expressed skepticism about the legislation but did not explicitly state her opposition.

Critics argue that repealing the law would be a betrayal of the bipartisan effort to ensure the safety of Florida residents in the wake of one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history. Rep. Robin Bartleman, a Democrat who served on the school board managing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the shooting, criticized her Republican colleagues for attempting to undo the 2018 law.

A 2018 Florida Atlantic University poll indicated that 77.7% of Florida residents supported raising the age limit for purchasing all guns in the state. Furthermore, a recent Fox News poll revealed that 81% of Americans favor raising the purchasing age to 21.