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Sen. Pat Roberts: Nobody under 21 should have an AR-15

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas at the Republican National Convention in 2016.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas at the Republican National Convention in 2016. AP file photo

Sen. Pat Roberts supports placing an age restriction on the rifle that was used in a Florida school shooting where 17 people died.

The Kansas Republican said he believes Congress is ready to act and expects President Donald Trump to take the lead.

"This is an opportunity, if you look at these youngsters who are so emotionally tied in to this grief of losing their friends — but it’s more than gun control. But I think we’re ready as a Congress to actually pass something and I think it’s going to be better background checks. Certainly nobody under 21 should have an AR-15," Roberts told reporters at the Kansas Statehouse.

"I don’t know why anybody would want an AR-15 unless they’re going to take one out on the shooting range."

The call for an age restriction may also place Roberts in tension with the National Rifle Association.

The association opposes raising age requirements for shotguns and rifles, though Roberts only spoke of raising the age for AR-15s, a specific type of rifle. The organization contends age restrictions would deprive young Americans of their constitutional right to self-protection.

Roberts is ranked 13th among beneficiaries of NRA money in Congress, with a total of $1.58 million over his career, both in the form of direct donations and money spent independently by the NRA in support of his campaigns.

NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said, "We need serious proposals to prevent violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from acquiring firearms," but added that raising the age requirement on shotguns and rifles from 18 to 21 would punish "law-abiding citizens for the evil acts of criminals."

Trump has pushed for gun legislation over the past couple days. He said on Twitter that he will seek strengthened background checks and wants to "Raise age to 21" though he didn’t elaborate. He also called for an end to the sale of bump stocks, an accessory that allows semi-automatic firearms to fire as if they were automatic.

Roberts also criticized the FBI’s performance on the Florida shooting case. The FBI has acknowledged it didn’t properly handle a tip regarding Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged in the Florida shooting.

“Then we’ve got the FBI and the tip line. For goodness sakes, whoever did or did not do that, we ought to say ‘sorry, go look for another job,’” Roberts said.

Roberts met with state Sen. Anthony Hensley, the Kansas Senate Democratic leader, on Thursday and the two discussed guns, among other topics. Hensley said he agrees with Roberts on the need to raise the age for having an AR-15.

“I think the feds are going to have to try to do something about these assault weapons getting into the hands of younger people. The other thing we talked about are the warning signs on this shooter down in Florida that people missed,” Hensley said.

Although Roberts is calling for some gun measures, Kansas as a whole has moved to loosen gun laws over the past several years. The state no longer requires a permit to carry a concealed weapon and a bill under consideration in the state Legislature would lower the concealed carry age to 18.

Contributing: Lindsay Wise of McClatchy DC and the Associated Press