NRA Florida Suit Revisits Age-of-Majority Question

(CN) – A federal lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association claims that Florida’s new law raising the legal age to purchase firearms imposes an “unequal and impermissible burden” on the constitutional rights of young adults.

Within hours of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s signing the gun-control bill Friday, the NRA filed its legal challenge in Tallahassee, claiming the new law “prohibited an entire class of law-abiding, responsible citizens from fully exercising the right to keep and bear arms.”

The bill, SB 7026, raises the legal age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21. It also strengthens waiting-period regulations for gun purchases in Florida, and bans “bump stock” products that allow consumers to modify firearms so they operate like automatic weapons.

The measure was passed March 7 by the Florida Legislature in the wake of a Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead.

Under federal statutes, federally licensed firearms dealers were already prohibited from selling handguns to those under 21. The newly passed Florida bill widens age restrictions by making it illegal under state law for anyone under 21 to buy any firearm, including rifles and shotguns, from any source.

The NRA lawsuit describes the Florida age-of-purchase restrictions as “facially unconstitutional, void, and invalid.”

In its as-applied challenge, the gun-rights group claims the law “particularly infringes upon and imposes an impermissible burden upon the Second Amendment rights” of 18- to 20-year-old females, given the statistically low violent crime rate of the demographic.

“In 2015, women in this age group accounted for only 1.8% of arrests for violent crime, while males in the same age bracket accounted for 8.7% of such arrests — and males between the ages of 21 and 24, who may lawfully purchase firearms under current law, accounted for 9.2%,” the NRA says.

The National Rifle Association is facing several legal hurdles in the Florida litigation in light of a landmark 2013 Fifth Circuit decision, which extinguished an NRA challenge to the law prohibiting federally licensed dealers from selling handguns to purchasers under 21.

In that prior challenge, which gun law expert and attorney Eric Ruben called the “leading Second Amendment case on age restrictions,” the Fifth Circuit found that “the line between childhood and adulthood was historically 21, not 18.” The tradition of regulating under-18 minors’ access to firearms, which was outlined in United States v. Rene E.,  was thereby extendable to 18- to 20-year-old citizens, the Fifth Circuit found.

The Fifth Circuit, applying intermediate scrutiny in that case, ruled the government had indeed “satisfied  its  burden  of  showing  a reasonable means-ends fit between the challenged federal laws and an important government interest.”

The NRA maintains in the Florida litigation that turning 18 means you’re entitled to full Second Amendment Rights.

“At 18 years of age, law-abiding citizens in this country are considered adults for almost all purposes and certainly for the purposes of the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights,” the complaint states. “At 18, citizens are eligible to serve in the military — to fight and die by arms for the country. Indeed, male citizens in this age group are designated members of the militia by federal statute … and may be conscripted to bear arms on behalf of their country.”

The NRA is represented by Kenneth Sukhia of Sukhia & Williams in Tallahassee, alongside David Thompson at Cooper & Kirk in Washington, D.C., pending pro hac vice admission. Neither firm has responded to a request for comment.

The defendants are Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, in their official capacities.

The NRA wants the court to void SB 7062 on the grounds that it violates the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment and the right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. The group repeatedly cites District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Supreme Court struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun ban as unconstitutional.

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