Officials with the National Rifle Association on Wednesday voiced opposition to any legislation aimed at raising the minimum age needed to buy certain rifles amid a renewed gun debate following last week’s deadly school shooting in Florida.
In a statement obtained by The Hill, NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the focus should be on keeping guns out of the hands of “violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.”
“Passing a law that makes it illegal for a 20-year-old to purchase a shotgun for hunting or adult single mother from purchasing the most effective self-defense rifle on the market punishes law-abiding citizens for the evil acts of criminals,” she said.
The group argued that raising the minimum age would deprive people between the ages of 18 and 20 of “their constitutional right to self-protection.”
Authorities said Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old identified by police as the gunman in last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, legally bought the AR-15 rifle he used to gun down 14 students and three teachers. He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
The current federal minimum age for buying or possessing handguns is 21, but the limit is 18 for rifles, including assault-type weapons such as the AR-15.
Officials with the NRA did not address the possibility of raising the minimum age Thursday while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference. However, President Donald Trump endorsed the idea during a school safety discussion Thursday with state and local leaders from across the nation, The Associated Press reported.
"We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18," Trump said. "The NRA will back it and so will Congress.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said in a tweet Wednesday that he was working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, on a bipartisan bill to raise the minimum gun purchase age for most Americans to 21 years old.
“A kid too young (to) buy a handgun should be too young to buy an #AR15,” he wrote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.