Florida Supreme Court delivers assault weapons ban effort a devastating blow

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The state Supreme Court in Florida punched a hole in a proposed constitutional amendment banning assault-style weapons, calling it out for being deceptive.

As first the coronavirus lockdowns and then this past week’s rioting over George Floyd’s death have knocked the legs out from under anti-gun arguments in the country, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a ballot initiative for an “assault weapons” ban will not be presented to voters.

Not only did the Ban Assault Weapons NOW petition fail to garner enough signatures to make it on the 2020 ballot in Florida, the state’s high court deemed the ballot summary did not meet the requirements to allow it to go on the 2022 ballot either, WLRN reported.

Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson and Carlos Muniz made up the majority opinion on the measure, focusing on the part of the summary which stated that it “exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date.”

The 4-1 decision on Thursday determined that it “affirmatively misleads voters regarding the exemption,” noting a contradiction about whether the exemption applied to the firearm or its owner.

“Specifically, the next to last sentence of the ballot summary informs voters that the initiative ‘exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date’ … when in fact the initiative does no such thing,” the majority opinion stated. “Contrary to the ballot summary, the initiative’s text exempts only ‘the person’s,’ meaning the current owner’s, possession of that assault weapon.”

The four justices added that the measure “does not categorically exempt the assault weapon, only the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon.”

The Ban Assault Weapons NOW initiative, which was opposed by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, began in the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The ruling against the amendment initiative argued that the language “misleads voters to believe that any lawfully possessed assault weapons will continue to remain lawful.”

“As the opponents argue, if an individual registers and attests to lawful possession of an assault weapon, and then lends, gifts, or leaves in a will that assault weapon to a family member or friend, then that family member or friend would be in criminal violation of the initiative — a felony offense,” the majority opinion read.

Liberal Justice Jorge Labarga dissented, claiming “the ballot summary clearly summarizes the content of the proposed amendment.”

The chairwoman of the political committee behind the initiative slammed the decision on Thursday but said it “does not change our commitment to rid Florida of these killing machines.”

“The Supreme Court, now controlled by the NRA in the same way as our governor and our Legislature, has fundamentally failed the people of Florida,” Gail Schwartz, whose 14-year-old nephew Alex Schachter was killed in the Parkland school massacre, said, according to WLRN.

But others praised the decision as another step in the fight to secure the Second Amendment rights of Americans.

“I think it is a huge victory for those who enjoy their 2nd Amendment rights,” George Levesque, an attorney for the NRA, said. “But it is also a victory for the people of Florida, in terms of making sure that when they are asked to amend their Constitution, they are going to get an accurate description of what the amendment does.”

Frieda Powers

Senior Staff Writer
[email protected]

Originally from New York, Powers graduated from New York University and eventually made her way to sunny South Florida where she has been writing for the BizPacReview team since 2015.
Frieda Powers

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