The Center Square
By John Haughey
June 5, 2020
(The Center Square) – The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday knocked a proposed constitutional amendment to ban possession of “assault-style weapons” from a prospective berth on the 2022 ballot.
In a 4-1 decision, the court ruled Ban Assault Weapons NOW’s 75-word ballot summary “affirmatively misleads voters” by contradicting broader text in the proposed amendment.
“Specifically, the next-to-last sentence of the ballot summary informs voters 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 said. “Contrary to the ballot summary, the initiative’s text exempts only ‘the person’s,’ meaning the current owner’s, possession of that assault weapon.”
Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson and Carlos Muniz formed the majority. Justice Jorge Labarga was the lone dissenter.
Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN) began its petition drive in the wake of the Valentine’s Day 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The group missed February’s deadline to submit 766,200 voter signatures to get on the Nov. 3 ballot and was aiming for 2022. As of Thursday, it had filed 174,564 signatures and raised $2.361 million, according to the Florida Division of Elections (DOE).
The prospective measure qualified for a Supreme Court review by securing 76,632 signatures; 10 percent of voters from one-third of the state’s 27 congressional districts.
The threshold for a Supreme Court review, with the adoption of Senate Bill 1794 during the 2020 legislative session, has been raised to 25 percent of registered voters in at least half the state’s congressional districts.
To get another ballot language review, BAWN must start from scratch and garner nearly 200,000 signatures.
Attorney General Ashley Moody, the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation challenged the proposal’s language.
“It is a huge victory for those who enjoy their Second Amendment rights,” NRA attorney George Levesque 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.”
“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,” BAWN Chairwoman Gail Schwartz said, noting the ruling “does not change our commitment to rid Florida of these killing machines. After striving for two years for a safer state for our families, we’re just getting started.”
Of six petition-driven campaigns that have met the threshold for a Supreme Court review, Moody has challenged four, with one, an open primary proposal, qualifying for 2020’s ballot.
In January, the court struck down an energy choice measure, agreeing with Moody and a long list of opponents that its summary was misleading.
Floridians will vote on six proposed constitutional amendments in November:
• Amendment 1: Amend the state constitution from “every citizen” can vote to “only citizens” can vote.
• Amendment 2: Raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.46 an hour to $10 an hour in 2021, with $1-an-hour increases annually until it reaches $15 an hour in 2026.
• Amendment 3: Allow all voters to cast ballots in open primary elections for state Legislature, governor and cabinet, regardless of political affiliation.
• Amendment 4: Require constitutional amendments approved by voters in one election to do so again in a second election to be encoded.
• Amendment 5: Increase time during which a person may transfer Save Our Homes benefits to a new homestead property from two year to three years.
• Amendment 6: Allow homestead property tax discounts to be transferred to surviving spouses of deceased veterans.