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Florida Republicans Push Bill to Lower Rifle Purchasing Age From 21 to 18

Polling has historically shown most Floridians support a higher age restriction on buying rifles and long guns.

Ian Bravender inventories a handgun at the WEX Gunworks store on January 31, 2023 in Delray Beach, Florida.

Florida state House Republicans have passed a bill that would repeal a gun violence prevention law that was enacted five years ago in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

On Friday, the state House passed House Bill 1543, by a count of 69 to 36. The bill would lower the age limit to buy rifles or “long” guns (which includes assault rifles) to 18, undoing the 2018 law, and now goes to the state Senate. If passed and signed into law, the provisions of the bill would go into effect on July 1 of this year.

Rep. Bobby Payne (R), who introduced the bill, says it “corrects the wrong we did in 2018”. Every Democrat in the chamber, joined by only three Republicans, voted against the bill’s passage.

Federal law mandates that, across the U.S., handguns can only be purchased by individuals 21 and older. States can determine, however, what age a person can purchase a rifle or “long” gun in their jurisdictions.

Up until 2018, Florida law allowed people 18 and older to buy such guns. Responding to calls for stricter gun regulations in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting, however, in which a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 individuals, mostly students, the legislature passed a bill to increase the age limit to 21 in a rare bipartisan move. The law requires someone to be 21 or older in order to buy rifles, including the most commonly used weapon in mass shootings, AR-15-style rifles.

The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration. As of Tuesday evening, the bill had not seen much movement in that chamber, and has yet to be considered or discussed by a committee. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who ordinarily favors loosening gun laws, has not indicated his view on the bill.

Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R) has expressed skepticism about the legislation, but didn’t outright say she’d try to defeat it or opposed it, either.

“I’ll see it when it comes over,” she told reporters last week.

Critics derided the effort to undo a law that passed with bipartisan support in the wake of one of the worst mass shootings in the U.S. in modern history.

“You made a promise to the parents and the citizens of Florida that you were going to keep us safe,” Rep. Robin Bartleman, a Democrat who served on the school board that manages Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when the shooting happened, said to her Republican colleagues who were present for the 2018 vote. “And now, today, you’re taking all of that back. I don’t know how you can do that.”

“Shame on @FloridaGOP House reps,” wrote Prevent Gun Violence Florida on Twitter on Friday. “This is a betrayal of all Floridians, particularly the Marjory Stoneman Douglas community. What a sad day for Florida.”

Past national and statewide polling suggests that the public is opposed to H.B. 1543.

In 2018, when the legislature was considering raising the age limit to buy all guns in the state, residents were supportive of the idea. According to a Florida Atlantic University poll at the time, 77.7 percent of Florida residents backed the proposal.

Americans by and large also support raising the age to buy a gun, with a Fox News poll published last week showing that 81 percent of Americans would favor raising the purchasing age to 21.