Florida school shooting suspect’s AR-15 was legally obtained

He wasn't old enough to drink, but he was old enough to own a military-caliber weapon.

CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images
CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that was used to kill 17 people in a Florida high school Wednesday was purchased legally.

“No laws were violated in the procurement of this weapon,” said Peter J. Forcelli, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Miami.

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Suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, had been living with a friend’s family following the death of his mother back in November. According to Jim Lewis, the lawyer for that family, Cruz already owned the gun when he moved in with them and they were aware of it. “It was his gun,” Lewis said. “The family made him keep it in a locked gun cabinet in the house but he had a key.” They had never seen him shoot it, but had seen him shooting pellet guns.

It’s unclear from the information available when or where Cruz obtained the firearm.

Back in September, YouTube user Ben Bennight had tipped off the FBI that an account by the name Nikolas Cruz had left a comment proclaiming, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI responded to Bennight immediately, but it’s unknown to what extent they followed up on that investigation or whether his name was ever flagged in way that would have made it harder for him to obtain a weapon. Bennight said that he did hear from them again after Wednesday’s shooting, but not knowing anything about Cruz, he had no additional information to add to the investigation.

Cruz’s social media accounts reportedly featured him posing with various weapons and discussing his desire to obtain more. Some students and teachers claimed that he had been flagged as a threat, but the school had no official records corroborating those reports.

The U.S. laws for age requirements when buying guns are rather bizarre, in that the requirements are more strict for licensed gun dealers than for unlicensed gun dealers. For long guns, including rifles and shotguns, the federal age for licensed dealers is 21, but there is no age requirement for unlicensed dealers. Likewise, for handguns the licensed age is 21, but the unlicensed age is 18. As law professor Adam Winkler and pediatrician Cara Natterson explained in a 2016 Washington Post op-ed, “This has the perverse effect of forcing young people to buy handguns from sellers who — because they aren’t licensed — don’t have to conduct background checks.” They also explained that people under the age of 25 “are responsible for a disproportionate amount of America’s gun violence,” including nearly 50 percent of all gun homicides.

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Florida law only prohibits “furnishing weapons to minors under 18 years of age or persons of unsound mind.” There is a three-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun, but no waiting period for long guns.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) opposes age restrictions on gun usage. Just last November, the organization applauded the passage of a bill in Wisconsin that eliminated the previous requirement that kids be at least 10 years old before they allowed to go hunting with a mentor. Now, parents in Wisconsin can decide to introduce guns to their children at any age.