WASHINGTON – When Sen. Jeff Flake said he would work to restrict access to AR-15s for anyone younger than 21, he somehow managed to unite pro-gun advocates and gun control groups who think little of his response to the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting.
The Arizona Republican tweeted that he will work with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, on legislation to raise the age to buy a gun to 21, the same age required for a handgun purchase. Flake noted that “a kid too young (to) buy a handgun should be too young to buy an #AR15.”
Although Flake’s tweet focused on the AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle, Feinstein said in a statement last week that her bill would “require all firearms purchases from gun dealers be restricted to individuals who are at least 21 years old.”
Flake’s office did not discuss specifics of the proposal, but a spokesperson said Friday the senator is “joining Sen. Feinstein and working on bill language.”
Matt Siebert, who co-owns Insight Firearms in Prescott Valley, said, “I’ve got mixed emotions on it.”
He pointed out that 18-year-olds are routinely issued firearms when they join the military, “and we feel they are mature enough to serve our country.
“But the difference is, they get training—a curriculum that gives them discipline and control of their emotions,” as well as firearms safety training, he said.
He said that, if the minimum age is raised, there should be a provision in the law for a 20-year-old who leaves the military with an honorable discharge to continue to own rifles.
Donald Grier, manager of Prescott Gun Club, said he’s not sure how much good raising the minimum age would do.
“With the Handgun Control Act, they raised the minimum age to 21 to purchase a handgun,” he said, “but if you look at the latest FBI statistics, you’ll find that most firearm crimes are committed with handguns. So, apparently, raising the age to 21 didn’t have any major effect on the use of handguns” in crimes.
“I’m really unsure of whether raising the age to 21 for the purchase of a rifle is going to make any difference at all,” he said.
Charles Heller, communications director and co-founder of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, called the Flake-Feinstein proposal an “idiot’s errand” and a betrayal by Flake that proves he “hates freedom” like others who endorse gun control.
“We’re probably going to create a special award for Sen. Flake,” Heller said. “That’s going to be the Benedict Arnold Award.”
On the other side, one gun-control advocate said she appreciates what the senators are doing but feels the regulation will be a lot of show with little results.
“It’s nice that they’re making an effort,” said Geraldine Hills, founder and president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, before asking, “What difference will it make?”
She pointed out that the shooters in the Las Vegas and Aurora, Colorado, attacks were both over 21 and would have been completely unaffected by any change this bill would make. Additionally, if the Flake-Feinstein bill mirrors current handgun laws, it would only prohibit rifle sales to those under 21 from federally licensed dealers.
“Without universal background checks, there’s loopholes everywhere,” Hills said.
Reporter Scott Orr of The Daily Courier contributed to this story.