Sen. Marco Rubio’s bill would let young adults in D.C. purchase the AR-15

The senator has twice introduced legislation to legalize gun sales for 18- to 21-year-olds in Washington, D.C.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Cameron Kasky asks a question to Sen. Marco Rubio during a CNN town hall meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on Feb. 21.  (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Cameron Kasky asks a question to Sen. Marco Rubio during a CNN town hall meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on Feb. 21. (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Published Feb. 28, 2018

Last week, Marco Rubio stared into the eyes of a father who lost his daughter during the nation's deadliest high school shooting and made an announcement: Young adults should not be able to purchase guns.

"I absolutely believe that in this country, if you are 18 years of age you should not be able to buy a rifle. I will support a law that takes that right away," Rubio said during an intense town hall event with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, parents and alumni.

But one of Rubio's own bills, which he has introduced twice, would overturn an assault weapons ban and legalize gun sales for young adults in the nation's capital, allowing 18- to 21-year-olds in Washington, D.C., to purchase weapons like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting if federal law doesn't change.

The Florida Republican introduced the Second Amendment Enforcement Act in 2015 and again in 2017 that would drastically change the District of Columbia's gun laws. After introducing the bill for the first time in 2015 while seeking the Republican presidential nomination, Rubio's National Rifle Association's grade went from a B+ to an A.

A man who was once called a "big disappointment" by Florida NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer — after wavering on a bill that allowed people with concealed-carry permits to keep their weapons in their vehicles while at work — was now back in the good graces of the nation's gun lobby.

"Rubio has a perfect voting record in the Senate," NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in 2015. "His rating reflects five years' worth of votes in defense of the Second Amendment."

Spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said Tuesday that Rubio's D.C. gun bill won't be changed in light of his new policy position.

"If passed, this bill would bring D.C. into compliance with federal law," Perez-Cubas said in an email. "If federal law is changed on the purchase age for semi-automatic rifles, then D.C. law would be changed as well."

The NRA opposes Rubio's position on preventing young adults from purchasing guns. President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott also agree with Rubio, though other Republicans in Congress agree with the NRA.

Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting member of Congress who represents the District of Columbia, urged Rubio to reconsider his bill in light of his comments after the Parkland shooting.

"Senator Rubio's D.C. gun bill would allow a person the same age (19) as the Parkland shooter to buy assault rifles, such as an AR-15, and high-capacity magazines in the nation's capital," Norton said in a statement. "Compounding the danger to District residents and visitors, Senator Rubio's bill would eliminate D.C.'s total ban on guns in school. The Parkland shooting tragically shows the dangers these weapons of war pose to our children. It is long past time that he withdraw his dangerous, anti-home-rule bill."

Congress has exclusive jurisdiction over the District of Columbia's laws, so it can overturn laws like the current assault weapons ban enacted by local elected officials.

Rubio's bill, and an identical House bill sponsored by Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Garrett, isn't likely to become law. Republicans only control 51 votes in the Senate, and 60 votes are needed in the upper chamber to pass Rubio's bill.

The bill also repeals the District of Columbia's registration requirement for the possession of firearms, repeals requirements regarding the keeping and storing of firearms and eliminates restrictions on transporting firearms in most of the nation's capital. Guns are still prohibited from the U.S. Capitol Complex, though members of Congress can maintain unloaded guns within the confines of their office.

"It is ironic that the Republican-led Congress, which has relentlessly tried, but failed, to overturn D.C.'s gun safety laws, including its prohibition of guns in D.C. government buildings, has not tried to overturn the federal gun laws that protect Members in the Capitol Complex," Norton said.