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Legislators say they want to change gun laws. Here are two things they can do.

Other states have already increased the age limit to buy military-style rifles and allowed people to petition a judge to have someone's guns taken away.
Protesters for gun control rally at the Federal Building - U.S. Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. [Al Diaz | Miami Herald]
Protesters for gun control rally at the Federal Building - U.S. Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. [Al Diaz | Miami Herald]
Published Feb. 19, 2018|Updated Feb. 19, 2018

In the wake of last week's massacre at a Broward County high school, legislators – even Republicans – are talking about changing the state's gun laws to prevent future shootings.

"I will tell you right now, I'm looking for solutions," one powerful Republican lawmaker, state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said last week. "And I'm not looking to spend the rest of the time of session talking about gun bills unless it deals with making sure that an individual who's mentally ill and 19 years old doesn't get it."

But with just three weeks left in the session, legislators will have to move fast.

While there are a slew of things legislators are likely to do to beef up school security and help students with mental illness, there are two gun measures they could pass relatively quickly:

1. Increase the legal age to buy military-style rifles.

Under federal law, a person has to be at least 21 to buy a handgun from a licensed gun dealer.

But to buy a military-style AR-15 rifle? You only have to be 18.

That loophole was exploited by last week's shooter, who bought the AR-15 rifle legally from a Coral Springs gun store when he was just 18. A year later, he used that weapon to kill 17 people at his former high school.

Several legislators, including some Republicans, said last week that the idea that someone so young could buy such a weapon was ludicrous.

"Certainly someone under 21 should not be having access to something (like that)," said state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando. "They're not trained, they're not knowledgeable, they're young."

Just two states, Hawaii and Illinois, have raised the minimum age to buy a rifle to 21, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Why the difference in age limits? It dates back to a federal law from the 1960s, when just about the only rifles you could get were used for hunting, according to the Huffington Post.

"Back in the day, you had a lower gun age for rifles because they were often used for hunting," Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law, told the Huffington Post. "Young men would have valid reasons for hunting, and they could even have it for self defense, but it was primarily for recreation."

2. Allow a judge to temporarily take away someone's weapons.

There were a slew of warning signs about Nikolas Cruz leading up to last week's shooting.

But if his family or police wanted his guns taken away from him, their options would have been limited.

That wouldn't be the case in five other states, which allow family or police to petition a judge to temporarily take away the guns of someone who's a threat to themselves or others.

If the judge agrees that there is enough evidence to take away a person's weapons, a hearing is usually set in a few weeks to re-evaluate and return them.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, and state Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, introduced legislation this session to create such a process, but their fellow legislators have chosen not to give it a hearing in any committees.

However, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said Sunday that it "absolutely" should be considered, adding that it's an "example of a state law" that could have helped prevent last week's shooting.

Connecticut was the first state to adopt it, and data shows that the restraining orders have been used relatively sparingly – just 762 times between 1999 and 2013, according to a recent study by researchers at Yale University, Duke University and the University of Connecticut.

That law was passed in response to a workplace shooting, but researchers found it had another benefit: preventing suicides. They estimated that anywhere between 38 and 76 suicides were averted by seizing guns over those 15 years. The estimate was based on a grim statistic: of all of the people who got their guns back, 21 still ended up killing themselves.

Since then, California, Oregon, Washington and Indiana have adopted similar laws.


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