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FL – COURTS – Experts become focus in court battle over Florida gun law passed after Parkland massacre

SUN SENTINEL.COM December 31, 2020 – A legal battle over a Florida law that raised from 18 to 21 the age to purchase rifles and other long guns has ramped up this month, with attorneys for the National Rifle Association and state officials trying to discredit each others’ expert witnesses.

The age requirement was included in a sweeping law passed in the weeks following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Fourteen students and three faculty members were killed after Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time, opened fire at the school using a semi-automatic rifle.

While the law banned sales of long guns to people under age 21, it does not block them from possessing the guns or receiving the guns as gifts. Federal law has long prohibited the sale of handguns to people younger than 21.

The NRA in 2018 quickly challenged the constitutionality of the state age requirement, and a trial was slated to begin Jan. 11 in Tallahassee. But this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who presides over the case, indefinitely postponed the lawsuit and all of his other civil trials until the coronavirus pandemic “is under control.”

Meanwhile, lawyers for the national gun-rights organization and the state are squabbling over who should be allowed to offer testimony. One of the legal quarrels involves Pradeep Bhide, a Florida State University College of Medicine professor who has spent nearly four decades as a developmental neuroscientist. The state is paying Bhide $500 per hour to testify as an expert on adolescent brain development.

In a report filed with the court, Bhide said the Florida law makes sense because “different parts of the brain mature at different times.”

“Brain regions that exercise voluntary control over our actions develop at a slower pace compared to brain regions associated with emotional and impulsive actions,” Bhide wrote in the 12-page report. “Thus, a developmental ‘mismatch’ emerges within the brain during development,” The “mismatch” is “particularly pronounced in adolescence … and it fades away in adults, by 21 years of age,” he wrote. [full article]

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