Debate Ignites Over Florida’s Legal Age for Buying Long Guns
It’s been close to six years since a devastating incident shocked the nation, where a 19-year-old teenager unleashed a hail of bullets at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, leading to the tragic loss of 17 innocent lives. This deadly event led to lawmakers in Florida raising the age limit for purchasing rifles and other long firearms from 18 to 21 in 2018. This decision was fueled by the shocking revelation that the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, had legally acquired the AR-15-style weapon used in the attack. However, the recent move by Florida Republicans to lower the legal age back to 18 has sparked a heated debate.
Victims’ Families and Advocates Speak Out
Tony Montalto, a grieving father who lost his 14-year-old daughter, Gina, in the horrifying school shooting, stood before the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in Tallahassee, pleading with lawmakers to reconsider. His heart-wrenching words echoed the sentiments of many victims’ families. “Our current law is working,” he stated, urging lawmakers to remember that the law was written in the blood of the victims, including his beloved daughter.
Adding to the opposition, 19-year-old Jayden D’Onofrio, who was in a nearby middle school when the shooting took place, shared alarming statistics about gun violence. He highlighted that 18-to-20-year-olds are three times more likely to commit gun homicides than other age groups.
What Does the Data Say?
The United States crime data, albeit incomplete, does show a concerning trend. Experts agree that individuals between the ages of 18 to 20, and even extending into their early-to-mid-20s, are more likely to commit deadly shootings than other age groups.
The gun control advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has stated that data shows 18-to-20-year-olds commit gun homicides at a rate triple that of adults 21 and over. This finding was based on an analysis of FBI’s supplementary homicide report and the U.S. Census American Community Survey from 2016 to 2020.
Relevance to Long Guns and Federal Law
While federal law requires individuals to be 21 to purchase handguns, some states, including Florida, allow the purchase of long guns at a younger age. Long guns encompass a range of firearms like rifles, carbines, shotguns, and submachine guns, with the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle falling under this category. The proposed bill in Florida centres on long guns, triggering intense debate in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy.
Insights from Criminology and Neuroscience
Insights from neuroscience suggest that the human brain doesn’t fully mature until individuals reach their mid-to-late 20s. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive control such as planning, prioritizing, and making well-reasoned decisions, is one of the last parts to mature. This lack of development is believed to drive impulsive behaviour among young people, which could potentially lead to violent actions.
Furthermore, criminologists and health policy experts indicate that the absence of the structured environment of high school, combined with biological factors and changing social positions, makes this age group more prone to dangerous behaviour.
In light of these findings, the debate over Florida’s legal age for purchasing long guns continues to rage, underscoring the pressing need for a thorough examination of the data and a comprehensive approach to gun control and public safety.