The National Rifle Association (NRA) on March 9 filed a lawsuit in federal district court over Florida lawmakers’ approval of a broad package of gun-control and school security measures just hours after Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed it into law.
The NRA contends the bill violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution with its provision raising the minimum age to purchase rifles of any kind from 18 to 21.
As a result of the Parkland shooting Senate Proposed Bill SPB7026 passed the Senate 20-18 on Mar. 5, after the governor had recommended the main provisions of the bill. It was approved by the state House almost immediately after the Senate action. It includes a 3-day waiting period for the purchase of all firearms, raising the age minimum for purchase to 21 years of age, a ban on bump stocks and allowing law enforcement to seize firearms from those that pose “a potential danger to him or her or others.” In the House HB219, a so-called “assault weapons” ban, that was removed from the House Judiciary Committee and referred to the full House, was defeated on a vote of 71-36 along party lines.
Another provision allows for the arming of teachers and school administrators.
The Parkland shooter legally purchased the military-style rifle used in the attack from a federally licensed gun dealer when he was 18. While federal law sets an age limit of 21 for all handgun purchases, the federal age limit for purchases of long guns is 18. That age difference has become a flash point in gun policy debates following the Parkland shooting. Florida’s new law makes it one of just three states, including Illinois and Hawaii that set an age limit of 21 for rifle purchases.
The NRA maintains that Florida’s new age limit violates the constitutional rights of young adults, alleging that it prohibits “an entire class of law-abiding, responsible citizens from fully exercising the right to keep and bear arms—namely, adults who have reached the age of 18 but are not yet 21.”
The NRA brief further claims that “at 18 years of age, law-abiding citizens in this country are considered adults for almost all purposes and certainly for the purposes of the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights. At 18, citizens are eligible to serve in the military—to fight and die by arms for the country.”
The issues at stake are similar to those raised in a previous federal lawsuit the NRA brought alleging the federal prohibition on handgun purchases by individuals under the age of 21 is “a categorical burden on the fundamental right [of young adults] to keep and bear arms.”
But the federal courts did not see it that way. In 2013 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in that case that age restrictions on handgun purchases were “consistent with a longstanding tradition of targeting select groups’ ability to access and to use arms for the sake of public safety.”
When Congress set the age limit for handgun purchases as part of the Gun Control Act of 1968, it did so because it reasoned that young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 “tend to be relatively immature and that denying them easy access to handguns would deter violent crime,” the court found.
The NRA appealed that ruling to the US Supreme Court. But the court declined to review the case, letting the appeals court’s ruling stand.
With the new NRA lawsuit in Florida, federal courts will once again have the chance to review the extent to which the Second Amendment allows for age limits on firearm purchases.
The Florida measure is reportedly not what many of the survivors of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school reportedly wanted, which was a blanket ban on assault weapons for the general public.
But it marked, for a Republican governor, a rare break with the NRA.