Okeechobee gun ranges navigate new gun laws

OKEECHOBEE — After the Florida legislature quickly passed new gun laws in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, gun stores, ranges, and local school districts scrambled to comply with the new regulations which went into effect the same day Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill.

One of the regulations raised the age from 18 to 21 years for all firearm purchases or transfers from licensed importers, manufacturers and dealers. However, the law doesn’t forbid citizens under 21 from buying a gun from a private individual. Although it may be illegal for someone from the age 18 to 21 to buy a gun from a dealer, it isn’t outright illegal for them to own a gun. The state of Florida doesn’t require background checks for private sales, but the Florida statutes do say that a seller may not knowingly transfer a firearm to anyone who is prohibited to own one by federal law, for example someone who has committed a felony or has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been admitted to a mental institution.

Renting guns for target practice at gun ranges is unaffected by the new regulations. Bob Kreitz, owner of Center Mass Gun Range in Okeechobee, has taken every step necessary to make sure his range is complying with the new laws.

“You can’t buy a gun from us unless you’re 21 or over,” explained Kreitz. “Our interpretation of the law is that if you’re 18 years of age or older you can still rent a rifle or shotgun from us to use at the range.”

Channing Boyd, general manager at OK Corral Gun Club, also reports that his range will still rent shotguns to individuals 18 to 20 for clay shooting.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida immediately after the bill was signed, for what they say is a violation the constitutional rights of 18- to 21-year-olds. In an email sent to supporters before the law was passed, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said that an “organized effort to bully legislators into passing legislation to hijack your Second Amendment rights is underway.”

Okeechobee Shooting Sports owner Jeff Wait also said that nothing has changed at his range besides the selling of firearms to someone under the age of 21.

“The Florida Department of Law Enforcement hasn’t reached out to any of the ranges to clarify things after the law was passed,” said Wait. “But there is nothing in the law about renting or even owning guns, just purchasing.”

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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