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Shootings lead to a debate about the age of purchase for AR-style rifles

LITTLE SKIRT, Ark. – Gunmen in two of the country’s recent mass shootings legally bought the semi-automatic rifles they used in their massacres after they turned 18. That’s prompting Congress and some governors and lawmakers to reconsider raising the minimum age for purchasing such high-powered weapons.

Only six states require someone to be at least 21 years old to purchase rifles and shotguns. Proponents argue that such a limit could have prevented the elementary school shooting Uvalde, Texaswhich killed 19 children and two teachers, and the racially motivated supermarket attack Buffalo, New Yorkthat killed 10.

Lawmakers in New York and Utah have proposed legislation that would raise the minimum age for purchasing AR-15 rifles to 21. A similar restriction is expected to come into force as early as next week in the US House of Representatives, where it has bipartisan support but the legislation faces uncertainty in the tightly divided Senate.

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association, said the idea should be up for discussion.

“I think you need to be able to talk about AR-15 style guns and whether that’s an 18-year-old or a 21-year-old,” Hutchinson told CNN this week. “They must at least talk about it.”

But Hutchinson, who is leaving office in January, is not pushing the limit in his own state. Proposed gun restrictions there are unlikely to be backed by Republicans, who control the Legislature. Arkansas Republicans are repeating their party’s calls nationally for a focus instead on improving school safety or tackling mental health.

“If we go to 21 and the shooter is 21, then they’re going to want to go to 25,” said Republican Senator Bart Hester, who will serve as Senate president next year. “We realized that being 18 in our society is an adult who can make adult decisions, and I’m good with that.”

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A recently opinion poll of governors highlighted by The Associated Press partisan division about whether the minimum age should be higher. Many Democratic governors who responded supported restrictions such as raising the age for purchasing semi-automatic weapons. But only one Republican — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, whose state, with some exceptions, already has a gun purchase age of 21 — backed such a move.

Gun control advocates say raising the age is one of the clearest steps that could have stopped or prevented the recent mass shootings. Uvalde attacker Salvador Ramos bought the AR-15 which he used shortly after his 18th

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If Ramos hadn’t been able to buy the gun, “he might have gotten the psychiatric treatment he needed and that never would have happened, or maybe someone would have given law enforcement some indication that this person was acting erratically.” said Sean Holihan, state legislative director at gun control advocacy Giffords. “But it’s clear if there had been a law that said he was 21 years old, he couldn’t have bought that gun.”

Federal law already prohibits state-licensed dealers from selling handguns to anyone under the age of 21, but people ages 18 to 20 can still purchase handguns from unlicensed dealers in their state.

Florida is a rare example of a Republican-run state that was quick to take action on gun restrictions after a mass shooting. In 2018, weeks after deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, then Gov. Rick Scott signed into law legislation raising the minimum age to purchase guns from 18 to 21, along with a host of other safety and gun control measures for schools.

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The law narrowly passed in both houses of the GOP-controlled legislature after intense lobbying from surviving students and grieving families, marking a moment of compromise in a state that had previously eschewed firearms restrictions. Scott, a Republican, said at the time the law “balanced our individual rights with the need for public safety.”

Scott, who is now a US Senator, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on whether such laws should be implemented in other states.

The Buffalo and Uvalde attacks also prompt New York lawmakers this week to consider raising the age limit for buying semi-automatic rifles as part of a package of gun safety bills. Under the proposal, individuals aged 21 and over who wish to purchase or own a new semi-automatic rifle would be required to obtain a license.

“New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but we clearly need to make them even stronger,” said Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul. “New Yorkers deserve to feel safe in schools, grocery stores, movie theaters, malls and on our streets — and we must do everything we can to protect them.”

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A proposal in Utah that would raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 is more of a long shot in the Republican-controlled legislature.

“If you can’t drink alcohol, why should you be able to buy a gun?” Democratic Senator Derek Kitchen said of his proposal.

The age requirement in the bill going to the US House of Representatives has some bipartisan support, but it remains unclear which aspects of the legislation will pass and be considered in the Senate. Any measure there needs the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass.

The House bill would also create a grant program to buy back large-capacity magazines, establish voluntary safe practices for storing firearms, and add executive branch steps banning bump-stock devices and 3-D printer ghost guns .

Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland is leading efforts to raise the age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles. He said such weapons “had no place in our neighborhood, let alone in the hands of an 18-year-old.”

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“Advancing the age to purchase weapons capable of this type of mass death is as sane as it gets,” he said.

Several Republicans have pointed to a federal appeals court ruling that found California’s ban on the sale of semi-automatic guns to adults under the age of 21 unconstitutional. Republican governors who oppose going ahead with age increases are also citing the political reality in their GOP-controlled legislatures.

For Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, raising the age limit for purchasing an AR-15 style rifle to 21 years “falls within the category of items which, in the Governor’s opinion, would not be adopted or considered by the Ohio General Assembly ‘ said spokesman Dan Tierney.

Eighteen-year-olds are already allowed to do many things in society, including enlisting in the military, said state Senator Terry Johnson, a Southern Ohio Republican who sponsored the state’s new law making concealed gun permits optional for people who can legally carry one Firearm.

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“They are adults and they are Americans and they are protected under the Second Amendment,” Johnson said.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said this week he supports raising the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 rifle to 21 but is not proposing such a change in his state.

“Firstly, do I really feel like an 18-year-old should be able to come in and buy an assault weapon? I don’t,” the Republican governor told reporters this week.

He seemed pessimistic that this or any other gun control measure would gain traction in his state.

“I can call 1,000 special sessions,” he said. “And if I just call 1,000 special meetings so people can come and talk and get on a soapbox and get nothing done, why?”

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking in Washington, DC; Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; John Raby of Charleston, West Virginia; Marina Villeneuve in Albany, New York; Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/01/shootings-prompt-debate-on-purchase-age-for-ar-style-rifles/ Shootings lead to a debate about the age of purchase for AR-style rifles

Sarah Y. Kim

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