Gun control supporters want Florida voters to decide in November 2020 whether to amend the state Constitution to ban assault weapons.
Ban Assault Weapons Now!, a bipartisan organization led in part by survivors of mass shootings in Orlando and Parkland, has enough signatures to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of its proposed ballot question. But Florida’s attorney general has gone to court to block the measure from appearing on the ballot, saying the wording is misleading and the language too broad.
If the state Supreme Court allows it, the amendment would ban the sale of “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.” It would not apply to handguns.
So should voters be able to vote on the assault weapons ban next year?
In a new survey of the Florida Influencers, a group of 50 prominent political and policy figures from across the state, a large majority (72%) said yes, the proposed amendment should appear on the ballot in some form, either as written or as tweaked.
The Influencers poll mirrors a public show of support for the ban. According to a June Quinnipiac University poll, 59% percent of Florida voters would vote yes on the referendum.
About half of the Influencers say they support the ballot initiative as written. This group includes former U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, who served in the Department of Justice during a time when assault weapons were banned and high-capacity magazines were limited.
“Mass shooting deaths rose sharply after the law was allowed to expire,” said Ferrer, now a partner at Holland & Knight’s Miami office. “I absolutely think that Florida can benefit from this amendment. It’s my understanding that the proposed language is broad for a reason, and that is to prevent gun manufacturers from quickly designing new guns that meet the new technicalities but operate in the same way.”
Elaine Liftin, president of the Council for Educational Change, said she supports the initiative based on the statistics surrounding assault weapons bans.
“When these types of weapons are banned, mass murders decrease,” she said. “Let the people have their say at the ballot box.”
Yolanda Cash Jackson, a shareholder and lobbyist at Becker and Poliakoff, says a constitutional amendment is likely the only way to ban the weapons in the state, which is controlled by a Republican-dominated Legislature. Voters should be able to have a say on the ballot if they don’t have a say in Tallahassee, she said.
“A Republican-led Legislature will never ban assault weapons even if their constituents urge them to do so,” Jackson said. “A vote of the people is the only hope to really embracing the will of the people.’’
Twenty-two percent of the Influencers say they, too, support the proposal, but that the wording should be reworked before it appears on the ballot.
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s letter to the court points out that the language of the amendment’s summary doesn’t make it clear just how many weapons would be outlawed if it passed or how long gun owners have to register firearms that meet the amendment’s definition of an “assault weapon.”
“The voters always deserve and have the right to vote on proposals related to guns,” said Bob Ward, president and CEO of the Tampa-based Council of 100. “That said, an amendment offered should specifically denote the weapons to be eliminated without being overly broad.’’
Eric Montes de Oca, president of the Latin Builders Association, said he’s looking for more clarity, too.
‘’I believe the amendment should be reworded and placed on the ballot,” he said. “A clearer definition of assault weapons is required for voters to properly understand what they are voting on banning.’’
Just 10% of the Influencers don’t support the proposal at all, while 18% still aren’t quite sure what to make of it.
Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, and Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, both said they are against the petition process in general.
Amending the Constitution shouldn’t replace governance, they said.
“Most petition and amendment ‘signers’ do not fully understand the full ramifications of what they are signing,” DiBello said. “This is not the way we should pass our rule of law.’’