TALLAHASSEE — Continuing to take a rare stance against the National Rifle Association, the state this week tried to convince a panel of federal judges to enforce a law banning the sale of guns and other long guns to people under 21 years.
The Republican-controlled legislature rushed to pass the law after a 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time of the massacre, pleaded guilty last year to murdering 17 students and staff at the Parkland School he once attended.
A ban on selling long guns to people between the ages of 18 and 20 was included in a sweeping school safety law. Federal law already prohibited the sale of handguns to those under 21.
The NRA challenged the constitutionality of the state’s age restriction, arguing in part that the law imposes an unconstitutional restriction on the Second Amendment rights of people under 21, who are permitted to use weapons when they serve in the military or work in law enforcement.
Republican leaders in Florida have long sided with the NRA on numerous gun issues, but resisted the organization in the 2018 law and the resulting lawsuit. Last year, U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker upheld the law, saying previous court opinions had given states leeway to impose Second Amendment restrictions in some cases.
But the national gun rights organization asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Walker’s decision, leading to Thursday’s hearing before a three-member appeals panel judges in Miami.
NRA attorney John Sweeney argued that 18-year-olds in Florida “do not enjoy the same freedoms guaranteed to the rest of the adults in this country” by the Second Amendment.
But Judge Charles Wilson pointed out that the law does not prohibit 18- to 20-year-olds from owning guns, just buying them.
“A young person aged 18 to 20 can count on the kindness of his parents and friends to receive a firearm. Other than that, they can’t get a gun,” Sweeney said.
“Unless, of course, they are in law enforcement or they are in law enforcement. Isn’t that exempt? asked Judge Robin Rosenbaum.
Sweeney said yes, but that the law excludes about 600,000 young Floridians from the “luxury” of having guns, drawing more questions from Rosenbaum.
“They have the luxury of having it. They don’t have the luxury of buying it until they’re 21,” she said.
But not all Floridians get guns at age 18, Sweeney replied.
“Law in Florida has become a privilege for the few, and that’s not fair at all, as guaranteed by our Constitution,” he said.
Florida law is more restrictive than federal law, which allows private sales and transfers of handguns and long guns to 18-year-olds, and more restrictive than nearly all other state laws , Sweeney said.
In his June 24 ruling, Walker wrote that he was following precedent in upholding the law, though he also described the case as falling “squarely in the middle of a constitutional no-man’s land.”
The main legal arguments in the case are based on a 2008 United States Supreme Court decision in a case known as District of Columbia v. Heller. Although the Heller ruling is widely considered a major victory for gun rights advocates, it also declared that some “longstanding bans” on guns do not violate the Second Amendment and established that the constitutional right to possess and bear arms is “not unlimited”.
The Heller case underscored the prohibition of such things as criminals and the mentally ill owning firearms. Walker concluded that the restrictions on 18-20 year olds purchasing firearms were “analogous” to the restrictions cited in the Heller case.
But Sweeney said there was no long-standing and widely accepted ban “that had this magnitude of banning the purchase of firearms” for those under 21. Such a permitted restriction should be reflected in federal law or have been adopted by a majority of states, he argued in part.
Rosenbaum noted that the age limit is less restrictive than prohibitions affecting people with mental illness and those convicted of crimes, who are not allowed to own firearms.
Restrictions on the purchase of firearms by people with mental illness or who had committed domestic violence were based on “a judgment of dangerousness”, Sweeney told him.
“There has been no judgment that 18 to 20 year olds are too dangerous, too irresponsible, to be allowed to buy guns, to exercise the rights that all other adults have. isn’t analogous. It’s not been for a long time,” he argued.
Christopher Baum, a Florida deputy solicitor general representing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said age restrictions on owning and buying firearms “are much older and have a much longer historical tradition. strong” than the other prohibitions. The commissioner of the state law enforcement agency is a defendant in the case.
By the end of the 19th century, 19 states and the District of Columbia had passed gun restrictions for people under 21.
“The concept of a long-standing historical restriction is based on the idea that if something is a long-standing restriction, it informs the original public understanding of what the Second Amendment did and did not protect,” said Baum.
But how the three-judge panel will handle the case could be murky.
Wilson noted that the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in November in a Second Amendment case involving New York’s handgun licensing law. The court’s decision in this case could impact the type of analysis used in other Second Amendment cases, he said, asking if the panel should wait for the outcome of the New York case. before deciding on the dispute in Florida.
Baum said he couldn’t speculate what the Supreme Court would do, but argued Florida law followed a “longstanding rule.”
“It need not also be analogous, but it is at least a type of those enumerated in Heller, and for this reason the district court correctly concluded that it is acts as a presumptively legal regulatory action under Heller and is therefore constitutional,” Baum said.