TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, state officials acted to curb the potential of future tragic shootings. A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of keeping restrictions on gun purchases passed after the shooting in place.
Under then Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature passed a law raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21, from 18. Legal challenges followed.
In the latest contest to the gun law, filed after the U.S. Supreme Court, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, ruled against the state of New York’s concealed carry rules in favor of fewer restrictions, the National Rifle Association moved to lower the age of purchase in Florida to 18.
Now, a federal appeals court has ruled unanimously to preserve the purchasing age restriction and uphold the current law in Florida.
The opinion, written by U.S. District Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum, stated the court would uphold the current status quo in the Sunshine State, citing “a persistent societal problem” of shootings in the United States.
Rosenbaum cited several news headlines written before the Reconstruction, the period following the Civil War, and noted the headlines from over 150 years ago could easily be switched to modern times, based on their subjects.
“Even though 18-to-20-year-olds now account for less than 4% of the population, they are responsible for more than 15% of homicide and manslaughter arrests,” Rosenbaum wrote. She added that since the Reconstruction, “guns have gotten only deadlier: automatic assault rifles can shoot sixty rounds per minute with enough force to liquefy organs.”
Continuing on, Rosenbaum’s opinion called back to the Parkland shooting, saying that “tragically, under-21-year-old gunmen continue to intentionally target others—now, with disturbing regularity, in schools.”
The court opinion said that state governments have never been made forced to “stand idly by and watch the carnage rage,” instead relying upon the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the Second Amendment to states and prohibit 18 to 21-year-olds from possessing guns as far back as the Reconstruction Era.
Rosenbaum said in the court’s decision that Florida’s response to the Parkland massacre by then-19-year-old Nikolas Cruz was in line with that history, and that the legislation which prevents those under 21 from buying firearms still allows them to possess and use guns of “any legal type.”
By passing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, Rosenbaum wrote that the state legislature had worked to “comprehensively address the crisis of gun violence,” including at Florida schools.
Saying that the NRA’s contest on Second and Fourteenth Amendment grounds pertained to historical precedent and individual conduct, Rosenbaum wrote that governments must demonstrate that state regulation of conduct is consistent with America’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
To that end, and relying upon the Bruen decision, Rosenbaum said the SCOTUS opinion on gun regulation had “abrogated” to the states, as it pertained to an individual’s conduct and behavior. In the Bruen decision, SCOTUS said history is needed because the Constitution’s meaning is set by the understanding of the ones who ratified it, and that per Bruen, states are required to respect the right to keep and bear arms not solely due to the Second Amendment, but also the Fourteenth, which expanded federal rights to states.
While the NRA contests Florida’s current age limit on Constitutional grounds, the court concluded that the public safety crisis of 18-to-20-year-olds being restricted from purchase of firearms was a matter of need, and Florida’s law is “at least as modest as the firearm prohibitions” of Reconstruction, the law was affirmed in Florida’s favor.
However, regardless of the court’s finding, legislation filed by Florida lawmakers could reduce the age back to 18, depending on how the state’s Republican-led legislature votes. The state’s chambers are currently both GOP-held supermajorities, in addition to the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, at the desk for any vetos or approvals on new bills.
For now, the 21-year-old age limit on firearm purchases remains in place.
In response to the decision, an NRA spokesman said that the organization was disappointed but believed the Florida legislature would address the issue through legislative means.
“The NRA supports the right of law-abiding adults to possess firearms for self-defense, hunting and sport shooting. There is no reason why an adult who is old enough to defend his or her country at war should be restricted from exercising their Second Amendment rights,” NRA Florida State Director Art Thomm said. “While disappointed by the court’s ruling today, the NRA looks forward to the Florida legislature addressing this issue and removing this unconstitutional ban. In fact, the Florida house recently filed HB 1543 to address this very issue.”
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