The National Rifle Association (NRA) has withdrawn its 2018 federal lawsuit against Florida for raising the legal age to purchase rifles from 18 to 21 and re-filed an amended 12-page complaint that does not use pseudonyms for its under-aged plaintiff.
The NRA’s lawsuit has been stymied in federal district court after Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker rejected the NRA’s insistence on using pseudonyms for its two 19-year-old plaintiffs, “Jane Doe” and “John Doe.”
Last week, the 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals dismissed the NRA’s appeal of Walker’s ruling, prompting the national gun rights organization to re-file the suit this week on behalf of Radford Fant of Duval County, “a law-abiding, responsible citizen between the ages of 18 and 21.”
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, whose office will represent the state in defending the law, and the NRA filed joint scheduling motions for what could be a summer 2020 trial.
Walker Wednesday formally lifted the stay in the NRA’s lawsuit, officially putting it back on the docket.
The NRA filed the lawsuit in May 2018 hours after then-Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, into law.
The quickly-assembled $400 million school safety and gun control bill was in response to the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17, including 14 students, dead.
The shooting, which spawned the nationwide “March for Our Lives” movement, was allegedly perpetrated by Nikolas Cruz, a former student who was 19 years old when he legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle used in the killings.
Florida has endured six mass shootings of three or more victims since June 2016, including the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the Parkland shooting.
SB 7026 raises the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21; requires a 3-day waiting period to buy firearms; bans “bump stocks;” and gives greater authority for law enforcement to seize weapons under “red flag” laws. Florida law already prohibited anyone under 21 from buying hand guns.
The NRA argues the 21-year-old age restriction “violates the fundamental rights of thousands of responsible, law-abiding adult Florida citizens and is thus invalid under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.”
In its original lawsuit, the NRA asked Walker to grant anonymity for its unnamed plaintiffs to avoid “harassment, intimidation, and potentially even physical violence” that could occur if their names were made public.
The state maintained anonymity “does not provide a sufficient basis for overcoming the strong presumption in favor of open judicial proceedings.” Walker agreed.
While the first lawsuit was filed on behalf of two unnamed 19-year-olds, the NRA’s revised case is filed on behalf of the under-21 Radford Fant of Duval County and makes the same legal case.
In its amended complaint, the NRA maintains the “age-based ban” imposes “a significant, unequal, and impermissible burden on the right to keep and bear arms of a class of millions of law-abiding 18-to-21-year-old citizens.
“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,” NRA’s lawyers continued in the amended complaint. “At 18, citizens are eligible to serve in the military – to fight and die by arms for the country.”
Senate President Sen. Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton, told reporters Wednesday that the Republican-controlled Legislature is ready to defend SB 7026’s gun-control measures.
“I continue to stand by this important legislation,” said Galvano, whose Innovate Florida PAC received $500,000 in campaign contributions from former New York City and 2020 presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown’s Gun Safety Victory Fund Florida in 2018.