Select Page

By Patrick McGreevy | Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO — Alarmed by a string of mass shootings by young people, California lawmakers on Wednesday sent the governor a bill that would raise the minimum age for buying long guns in the state from 18 to 21.

Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino said his bill would address concerns raised by incidents including the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which a 19-year-old is accused of using an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle to kill 17 students and school employees.

“The two most deadly recent school tragedies have been perpetrated by people under 21 with long guns,” Portantino told his colleagues before the Senate approved the bill and sent it to the governor.

Surviving students from the Florida school campaigned successfully to get that state to adopt a law limiting gun purchases to residents 21 and older in March, and have called on California and other states to follow that lead.

The measure approved Wednesday by the California Senate builds on a previously adopted law limiting handgun purchases to those 21 and older.

“As a dad and a legislator, I am determined to help California act appropriately to the tragic events our country has faced recently due to gun violence,” Portantino said. “Out of respect for young people across our country who are demanding action we must answer their plea for help.”

Backers of the bill also cited Adam Lanza, who was 20 years old in 2012 when he shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In 1999, two high school students killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado. In both cases, the killers carried rifles and shotguns.

The bill was approved Wednesday by a 26-12 vote of the Senate. Republican lawmakers who voted against the measure noted people younger than 21 can legally vote, buy homes and join the military to fight for their country. Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican, argued during the floor debate that the measure will not affect criminals who he said do not buy their firearms legally. He said the age restriction in the bill is arbitrary.

“What is magic about 21? All of a sudden you are not a danger anymore?” he asked. “I believe that yet again bills like this miss the target.”

The restriction is also opposed by gun-owner advocacy groups including the National Rifle Association, which fought the Florida law.

“Passing a law that makes it illegal for a 20-year-old to purchase a shotgun for hunting or an adult single mother from purchasing the most effective self-defense rifle on the market punishes the law-abiding citizens for the evil acts of criminals,” Daniel Reid, the California state director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, wrote in a letter to legislators.