Weapons ban may be up to vot­ers

Sup­port­ers need over 600,000 sig­na­tures to get is­sue on 2020 bal­lot

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Gille­spie

Gun-control ad­vo­cates say they’ve col­lected more than 103,000 sig­na­tures, enough to trig­ger the next critical step be­fore a pro­posed ban on the sale of as­sault weapons could go be­fore Florida vot­ers in 2020.

Leaders of the po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee Ban As­sault Weapons Now gath­ered in Or­lando on Mon­day to an­nounce that its draft con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment met the sig­na­ture thresh­old to go be­fore the state Supreme Court for re­view. The event came just days be­fore the third an­niver­sary of the shoot­ing at Pulse night club where 49 peo­ple died in a hail of gun­fire from a shooter armed with an as­sault-style ri­fle.

“Right now, we can do some­thing to pre­vent the next mass shoot­ing,” said Gail Schwartz, chair­woman of the com­mit­tee that goes by the acro­nym BAWN

the aunt of Alex Schachter, one of 17 peo­ple killed at the Park­land high school shoot­ing last year. “We’re here to­day to of­fer you a chance to do some­thing to create a pos­i­tive change for our state.”

Af­ter the shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School, Schwartz part­nered with families touched by the Pulse shoot­ing to try to pro­hibit the sale semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and shot­guns ca­pa­ble of hold­ing more than 10 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion — ei­ther in a fixed or de­tach­able mag­a­zine. The amend­ment, if ap­proved, would also re­quire peo­ple who legally owned as­sault-style weapons be­fore the ban to regis­ter them with the state.

“We have a gun Au­to­bahn right now,” said Chris­tine Leinonen, whose son, Drew, was killed at Pulse. She was joined at the an­nounce­ment by Mayra Alvear, whose daugh­ter, Amanda, was also killed, and by Ricardo Ne­gronAlmod­ovar, who sur­vived the 2016 shoot­ing at the club just south of down­town Or­lando.

“The Sec­ond Amend­ment says guns should be well reg­u­lated. And we know that by ban­ning as­sault weapons, that’s not going to solve ev­ery gun prob­lem in America, but it’s a piece of the puz­zle,” Leinonen said.

The group still faces an

up­hill climb if the amend­ment is to make it on the bal­lot. It needs an ad­di­tional 600,000-plus sig­na­tures to reach the re­quired 766,200 statewide by Feb. 1, 2020. Sig­na­tures must come form 14 of 27 con­gres­sional districts. They also face a se­ries of new hur­dles for pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments brought by a law (HB 5) signed by Gov. Ron DeSan­tis last week.

State records show the organizati­on has raised

$430,000 to­ward the ef­fort. Schwartz said her group must raise more money to over­come the new reg­u­la­tions on bal­lot ini­tia­tives.

The new law re­quires those col­lect­ing pe­ti­tions to have a Florida ad­dress and regis­ter with the state. It also would im­pose fines rang­ing from $50 to $250 for pe­ti­tions sub­mit­ted 30 days af­ter they were signed. The as­sault weapons ban drive will be among the first tested by the new reg­u­laand

tions.

State Rep. Car­los Guillermo Smith, D-Or­lando, spon­sored an as­sault weapon ban each of the last three years, but never got a sin­gle hear­ing on his bill. He said the new law that makes it harder and potentiall­y more costly for pro­posed amend­ments to reach the bal­lot is rooted in fear among his fel­low law­mak­ers in a heav­ily Repub­li­can House and Se­nate.

“They are scared of this

bal­lot ini­tia­tive to ban as­sault weapons in the state of Florida,” he said. “The re­al­ity is that cit­i­zens are frus­trated with a Leg­is­la­ture that is not lis­ten­ing to them. That is why they have gone to a cit­i­zen-led con­sti­tu­tional bal­lot ini­tia­tive time af­ter time in this state.”

Charles Hart, Chair­man of the Or­ange County Repub­li­can Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, said he op­poses the pro­posed ban, calling it a move to take away rights from law-abid­ing cit­i­zens.

“My heart goes out to them, but there are other ways to deal with gun vi­o­lence with­out tak­ing away the fun­da­men­tal right of mil­lions of law-abid­ing Americans,” Hart said, ad­ding he fa­vors harsher sen­tences for those who com­mit gun vi­o­lence.

“These peo­ple are sick who do these things,” Hart said of mass shoot­ers. “It makes no sense to me that we’re pun­ish­ing peo­ple who are good for these bad ap­ples.”

Repub­li­can State Rep. David Smith, R-Win­ter Springs, said he fears an as­sault weapons ban would create a false sense of se­cu­rity, and crim­i­nal­ize gun own­ers. The fo­cus, he said, should be on men­tal health.

“I think they’re wellmean­ing, but I be­lieve their efforts are greatly mis­guided,” said Smith, a for­mer U.S. Ma­rine. “I wish this groundswel­l of sup­port was fo­cused on ad­dress­ing men­tal health.”

State Rep. Anna Eska­mani, a Demo­crat whose dis­trict in­cludes Pulse, said she’s op­ti­mistic the ban will make it on the bal­lot.

“I feel pretty good that we’re going to col­lect enough sig­na­tures,” Eska­mani said, not­ing her of­fice col­lects pe­ti­tions through­out the year. “I feel pretty con­fi­dent that the mo­ti­va­tion, the pas­sion and the right peo­ple are leading the cause.”

RICARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Mayra Alvear, mother of Amanda Alvear, talks dur­ing a meet­ing of families of vic­tims of the Pulse night­club shoot­ing at Lake­front Park in Kis­sim­mee in Septem­ber 2016.

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