by John Haughey, The Center Square
July 9, 2021
Florida bans people younger than 21-years-old from buying firearms and preempts local governments from adopting gun laws.
Both components of the state’s firearms laws are being challenged.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has appealed a federal judge’s June 24 ruling upholding a 2018 Florida law prohibiting people younger than 21 from buying firearms.
The NRA filed its notice-of-appeal Wednesday with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, challenging U.S. Northern District of Florida Judge Mark Walker’s 48-page ruling upholding the 2018 law.
As is typical, the notice didn’t detail the NRA’s appeal, but NRA Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer in email statements said the NRA is appealing to “protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of all law-abiding adults.”
“There is no question that 18-to-21-year-olds are adults in the eyes of the law and the Constitution,” she continued. “To deny those younger adults their rights because of the actions of criminals is nothing less than political discrimination.”
The NRA filed suit in 2018 after the adoption of Senate Bill 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, challenging the constitutionality of denying 18-20-year-olds the right to purchase long guns. Federal law bars handgun sales to people under 21.
SB 7026, which also imposed a 3-day waiting period to buy firearms, banned “bump stocks” and broadened “red flag” laws, was a quickly-assembled $400 million response to the Valentine’s Day school shooting, which occurred while lawmakers were in session.
Walker cited as precedent the landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that upheld the fundamental individual right to own a firearm while sustaining “longstanding prohibitions” on firearms possession.
“In short, Heller’s listed regulations are similar to restrictions on the purchase of firearms by 18-to-20-year-olds; all target specific groups thought to be especially dangerous with firearms,” Walker wrote.
Hammer said Walker’s ruling “is inconsistent” with Heller but “his hands were tied by (lower court) precedent” in the case.
While he ruled for the state, Walker noted “grave concerns about the balance the Legislature struck” because the law only applies to those who cannot get guns from relatives.
“Why should the 20-year-old single mother living on her own be unable to obtain a firearm for self-defense when a 20-year-old living with their parents can easily obtain one?” he wrote.
As the NRA was filling its appeal, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, was calling on the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider a state law that penalizes elected officials who adopt municipal firearms ordinances.
Florida has preempted local governments from regulating firearms since 1987. The Legislature in 2011 added $5,000 fines and removal from office if local officials pass gun ordnances to the preemption. The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the law in April.
With gun-related crime up in Florida, Fried said in a virtual press conference, “This is a public health crisis. Our communities deserve local safety solutions. Instead, what are we getting out of Tallahassee? Huge fines, removal from office and government overreach from the capital of Tallahassee.”
Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate, said Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature will “willfully ignore over 70% of Floridians who demand action on gun violence” unless prodded by the state’s highest court.
“To the justices of the Florida Supreme Court: Do it for the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting. Do it for the 17 victims of the shooting at my alma mater, Stoneman Douglas, and do it for the hundreds of men, women and children who are gunned down in the streets across Florida every week,” he said.