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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

Florida teens could soon face stricter penalties for possessing illegal firearms

The Stewart Detention Center is seen through the front gate, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Lumpkin, Ga. The rural town is about 140 miles southwest of Atlanta and next to the Georgia-Alabama state line. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman/AP
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AP
The Stewart Detention Center is seen through the front gate, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Lumpkin, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Supporters say early intervention is necessary, but critics worry the proposal isn't fair to kids.

Kids caught with an illegal firearm could be charged with a felony under a bill (HB 1181) moving through the Florida House.

Representative Berny Jacques (R-Seminole) is behind the bill. He said on Friday that the measure will better hold kids accountable.

“There’s plenty in our current criminal justice system for diversion, prevention, and deterrent," Jacques said to a House Criminal Justice committee. "There has to be accountability as well on the other end. Accountability can be a deterrent.”

Under the measure, minors under 18 would be charged with a third degree felony if they’re caught with an illegal firearm. The bill would also extend how long juvenile detention centers could hold minors before a court begins criminal proceedings.

The bill notes, the minor could remain at the facility anywhere from five to 21 days, depending on the crime committed.

Assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Seth Perlman/AP
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AP
Assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

“In a situation where a known youth is always known to be carrying around a firearm and have committed offenses before, if they are addressed early on, that may deter them from doing something else in the future because these things escalate," said Jacques.

Representative Michael Gottlieb (D-Sunrise) spoke out against the measure. He argued the adjudication process can sometimes take weeks or even months. He believes that's too long for kids to be locked away, especially without them being convicted.

“A juvenile's mind is capable of maturing," Gottlieb said citing Roper, Graham, and Miller, a U.S. Supreme Court case. "We’re ignoring that and what we’re doing is we’re taking that child, we’re not giving them the proper deterrent. We’re incarcerating them, which is harming their brain to begin with.”

Despite concerns, the bill is moving forward in the House. It has two committee stops left to go. A similar bill in the Senate has not yet been heard.

Adrian Andrews is a multimedia journalist with WFSU Public Media. He is a Gadsden County native and a first-generation college graduate from Florida A&M University. Adrian is also a military veteran, ending his career as a Florida Army National Guard Non-Comissioned Officer.

Adrian has experience in print writing, digital content creation, documentary, and film production. He has spent the last four years on the staff of several award-winning publications such as The Famuan, Gadsden County News Corp, and Cumulus Media before joining the WFSU news team.