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House bill proposes to drop gun-buying age to 18

Long rifles and handguns are on display for sale at Bass Pro Shops at 2650 Bass Pro Shops Blvd, Gainesville, Fla. on Mar. 10, 2023. The outfitter there requires a sign-in process to start the process of purchasing a firearm. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)
Long rifles and handguns are on display for sale at Bass Pro Shops at 2650 Bass Pro Shops Blvd, Gainesville, Fla. on Mar. 10, 2023. The outfitter there requires a sign-in process to start the process of purchasing a firearm. (Augustus Hoff/WUFT News)

Eric Ly, a 17-year-old Gainesville high school senior, may be able to legally buy a gun before he can drink a beer if a new proposal is passed this session by the Florida State Legislature.

The controversial measure was introduced on Tuesday night at the start of the session that will last 60 consecutive days.

Republican Florida House of Representatives Bobby Payne, Palatka, and Tyler Sirois, Merritt Island, are cosponsoring HB 1543, which would reduce the minimum age at which a person may purchase, sell or transfer a firearm from 21 to 18.

“It’s a scary thing,” said Ly, who added that he is nervous of how the proposal could affect the safety of his school.

But Payne said the change was necessary to guarantee constitutional rights.

“Florida is among only a handful of states, like Hawaii and New York, who limit long gun sales to those 21 and up,” Payne said.

The measure is now with the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and is on its agenda for March 13. If approved, the proposal would become effective on July 1.

The proposal was made in response to recent legislation enacted in Florida after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in 2018, which left 17 people dead. The shooting prompted a series of “red flag” laws.

Red flag laws vary by state, and the term describes any law passed that takes away gun rights or gives the government more power and ability to take away gun rights. In Florida, they red flag laws went into effect during 2018.

One of those was the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed by then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The act included a provision that prohibited the sale of firearms for most Floridians under 21. HB 1543 would revise that law.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in 2018 has been in the public eye again because of the recent sentencing of the gunman, Nikolas Cruz. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The new bill proposed on Tuesday raised concerns among adults who work in public schools. Florida had 3,041-gun deaths in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Carmen Ward, the Alachua County Education Association president, has been involved in the education system for 32 years. She represents more than 2,400 union members in the education system across Alachua County.

“We are living in strange times right now, and it feels like there are very dangerous bills right now that are being dropped,” said Ward.

Ward said teachers, some of whom have encountered guns in the classroom, have come to her seeking guidance on how to handle potential gun violence at school. She said some alternative high school programs already have students as old as 22 who can purchase guns.

“I stand with the Parkland students and Moms Demand Action in that we think we need more restrictive gun laws, not less restrictive,” she said.

But many people support the introduction of less restrictive gun laws.

Henry Keys, 24, a self-defense and firearms instructor, said he believes that lowering the age to 18 would be a good thing.

“Most 18-year-olds that want a gun can already get one under the table, with no background check,” he said.

Keys said that lowering the age could actually make the management and distribution of firearms safer.

“Dropping the age would require background checks for those individuals and would give them the opportunity to learn about safety classes and learn from a professional when buying from them,” he said.

Keys also said that he has a lot of new young customers, many of them women. Many people who take gun training classes and buy guns have shared their horror stories that are their reasoning behind taking the course, he said.

Keys said that he thinks training and safety classes should be required for handgun purchases from customers under the age of 21.

But not all women feel the need to purchase firearms, even if they are currently legally allowed to.

Erin Harris, 21, a student at the University of Florida lives with two other women in an apartment off campus. She said that she has never felt the need to purchase or have a firearm -- and probably never will.

“There’s no purpose to having a gun in my apartment. Even if I lived alone, I wouldn’t get one and they cause more harm than they do preventing it,” Harris said.

Harris is not alone in her attitude towards firearms.

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2021, 48% of Americans said they see gun violence as a very big problem in the country. This is compared to the 53% of Americans who favor stricter gun laws.

Nathan Santiago, a 20-year-old conservative who is in support of Second Amendment rights, said he favors stricter gun laws but believes that 18-year-olds should not have legal access to firearms.

“Even as a conservative, I don't know if it's necessary for some high-schooler to go purchase a gun legally, especially after the Parkland shootings,” Santiago said.

Santiago, a UF student, added that he plans on owning a firearm in the future when he is older, and would store it in a safe environment.

Yet, this idea is not shared by all conservatives.

Niko Gianopulos, 18, a gun advocate, said that if people can vote and join the military at 18, then they should be able to purchase weapons.

“Lowering the age to 18 will also allow more people to participate in outdoor activities like hunting or shooting for sport,” said Gianopulos, who is unemployed.

Statista Research Department released a study in 2021 that showed that about 15 million people went hunting in America during 2020. In a similar study, Florida issued only 295,399 hunting licenses, tags, permits and stamps in 2021. This is compared to 4.2 million hunting licenses, tags, permits and stamps issued by Wisconsin, which was at the top of the list the same year.

No matter the reason behind purchasing a firearm, the proposal would allow purchases by individuals age 18 and older.

Ly, the 17-year-old high school senior, said he does not think such dangerous objects should be so obtainable, especially to people who are still so young.

“As someone who would have the right to purchase firearms extended to them soon, I think that is would be a horrible thing to do,” Ly said.

Augustus is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing