Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced Friday that she is introducing legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase rifles — including military-style assault weapons — from 18 to 21.
Under federal law, handguns cannot be sold to anyone under age 21. But licensed gun dealers are permitted to sell assault-style rifles and other “long guns” to buyers 18 and older.
Nikolas Cruz, the suspected gunman in Wednesday’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, used an AR-15 assault-style rifle, according to police. He is 19 years old.
Lone gunmen in many of the most deadly mass shootings in the U.S. over the past several years, including the Las Vegas massacre on Oct. 1, were armed with similar weapons.
“Licensed gun dealers cannot sell a handgun to anyone under 21, but they are allowed to sell assault rifles like the AR-15 to anyone over 18. This policy is dangerous and makes absolutely no sense,” Feinstein said in a statement.
“If you can’t buy a handgun or a bottle of beer, you shouldn’t be able to buy an AR-15,” she continued. “This is common sense, and I hope my Republican colleagues will join me in this effort.”
Raising the age for the legal purchase of long guns falls far short of a ban on assault-style weapons, which is what many gun control advocates have called for.
President Bill Clinton signed a federal ban on the manufacture for, sale to and possession by civilians of what it called “assault weapons” and large-capacity magazines in 1994. The law specifically barred certain semi-automatic weapons, including the AR-15. But that law lapsed in 2004, and Congress did not reauthorize it.
The assault-style rifles often favored by criminal shooters are based on military weapons. But military assault rifles have a selector switch that allows automatic fire (a continuous spray of bullets with one pull of the trigger) or semi-automatic fire (one shot with each trigger pull). Civilian versions of the rifles are semi-automatic only.
But the civilian weapons can still be extremely lethal. Some manufacturers boast that an experienced shooter can fire as many as 45 rounds in one minute.