Back­ers seek OK on weapons ban word­ing Pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment is aimed at block­ing pos­ses­sion of as­sault weapons

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Jim Saun­ders

TALLAHASSE­E — Push­ing back against ar­gu­ments raised by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ash­ley Moody and the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, gun­con­trol sup­port­ers con­tend the Florida Supreme Court should sign off on a pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment aimed at block­ing pos­ses­sion of as­sault weapons.

The po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee Ban As­sault Weapons NOW, the gun-con­trol group Brady and a coali­tion of 13 cities filed le­gal briefs Fri­day say­ing that the pro­posal meets le­gal tests to go be­fore vot­ers. The Supreme Court, which must sign off on pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments, looks at the word­ing of bal­lot ti­tles and summaries.

Moody’s of­fice, the NRA and the Na­tional Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion filed briefs last month rais­ing a se­ries of ob­jec­tions to the pro­posed amend­ment, in­clud­ing the NRA tak­ing is­sue with the term “as­sault weapons,” which it de­scribed as po­lit­i­cal rhetoric.

But the back­ers of the pro­posed amend­ment dis­puted such ar­gu­ments and said the word­ing clearly in­forms vot­ers about the in­tent of the mea­sure. The pro­posal emerged af­ter the Fe­bru­ary

2018 mass shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School that killed 17 peo­ple.

“The in­tent of the spon­sor and sup­port­ers, which in­clude law en­force­ment and mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, is to pre­vent fu­ture tragedies by re­strict­ing the pos­ses­sion of the most lethal firearms that may be used to com­mit mass killings,” the Ban As­sault Weapons NOW brief said. “The pro­posal specif­i­cally tar­gets semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and shot­guns that are ca­pa­ble of ac­cept­ing more than 10 rounds at once and does not in­clude any firearms that do not meet the def­i­ni­tion of an as­sault weapon.”

Ban As­sault Weapons NOW has pro­posed plac­ing the amend­ment on the Novem­ber 2020 bal­lot, though it is un­clear whether the com­mit­tee can meet a Fe­bru­ary dead­line for sub­mit­ting 766,200 valid pe­ti­tion sig­na­tures to the state. As of Mon­day, it had sub­mit­ted 124,683, ac­cord­ing to the state Divi­sion of Elec­tions web­site.

If it does not meet the sig­na­ture dead­line, the com­mit­tee could try to put the pro­posal on the 2022 bal­lot. Back­ers of an­other amend­ment that seeks to ex­pand Med­i­caid el­i­gi­bil­ity, for ex­am­ple, are seek­ing Supreme Court ap­proval of their bal­lot word­ing but have al­ready shifted their ef­forts to the 2022 elec­tion.

The Ban As­sault Weapons NOW pro­posal calls for pro­hibit­ing “pos­ses­sion of as­sault weapons, de­fined as semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and shot­guns ca­pa­ble of hold­ing more than 10 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion at once, ei­ther in fixed or de­tach­able mag­a­zine, or any other am­mu­ni­tion-feed­ing de­vice.” The mea­sure builds in cer­tain ex­emp­tions, in­clud­ing for as­sault weapons legally owned be­fore the ban would take ef­fect, though those guns would face a reg­is­tra­tion re­quire­ment.

In their brief last month, at­tor­neys for Moody ar­gued that the bal­lot word­ing would not give an ad­e­quate ex­pla­na­tion of the ef­fects of the pro­posal.

“The pro­posed amend­ment is, in prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion, a ban on vir­tu­ally all semi-au­to­matic long guns. This is so be­cause vir­tu­ally all semi-au­to­matic long guns — ei­ther off-the-shelf or by virtue of broadly avail­able ac­ces­sories — hold, or are ‘ca­pa­ble’ of hold­ing, more than 10 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion,” Moody’s lawyers wrote. “The bal­lot sum­mary does not dis­close this ef­fect, which Florida vot­ers are un­likely to un­der­stand ab­sent ex­pla­na­tion.”

The NRA mean­while, fo­cused heav­ily on the term “as­sault weapons.”

“The amend­ment hides be­hind po­lit­i­cal rhetoric and a mis­lead­ing bal­lot sum­mary to coax vot­ers into abridg­ing their ex­ist­ing right un­der the Florida Con­sti­tu­tion to keep and bear arms and crim­i­nal­iz­ing the most com­monly owned ri­fles and shot­guns in Amer­ica,” lawyers for the gun-rights or­ga­ni­za­tion wrote.

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