TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Republican attorney general is trying to scuttle a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban the type of rifle used in last year’s Parkland school shooting, a move that comes as the state’s gun control debate intensifies heading into 2020.
Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the state Supreme Court on Friday to block the ballot initiative, which is being pushed by Miami-based Ban Assault Weapons Now, a group that wants to ban most semiautomatic rifles. The group has gathered more than 99,000 certified signatures so far, enough to trigger an automatic legal review of the amendment by the state’s highest court.
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If organizers succeed in getting a gun control question on the ballot, it will inject another hot-button issue into what already is shaping up to be a turbocharged election in the crucial battleground state. President Donald Trump’s key to victory in Florida, whose legislature and governor’s office are controlled by Republicans, includes winning the state’s 29 electoral votes again this time.
The amendment also could test the strength of the gun lobby in Florida, which had largely been successful pushing gun-rights legislation until the Parkland massacre led to the state’s first significant gun restrictions in decades.
In a notice filed with the court, Moody said that the proposal as worded would ban “the possession of virtually every semi-automatic long-gun. To be included on the ballot, the sprawling practical effect must be revealed in the ballot language.”
Moody also said that a provision that would grandfather existing owners of semiautomatic weapons is misleading because it requires owners to register their guns within a year. She called the amendment language “deficient” and said it would mislead voters.
“Regardless of your position on gun restrictions, this proposed ballot language is a trick,” Moody spokesperson Lauren Schenone told POLITICO. “The drafters of this proposal have confused voters by creating a misleading definition of ‘assault weapons’ which would include a majority of the most popular hunting rifles and shotguns.”
Florida has suffered several mass shootings in recent years. In 2016, a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Less than a year later, five people were killed when a man opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Moody, a former judge who was elected last November, has largely avoided contentious issues during her first six months in office. She opposed gun restrictions while on the campaign trail last year and opposed new age restrictions adopted by the Florida Legislature in the wake of the killings at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The National Rifle Association has filed a lawsuit challenging a provision of the law that raised the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21.
Moody’s opposition to the amendment drew the scorn of activists who are pushing the proposal.
“It’s not surprising that the attorney general is now openly opposing measures to protect families, playing politics with Floridians’ lives in order to appease the NRA,” said Gail Schwartz, chairwoman of Ban Assault Weapons Now and aunt of Alex Schachter, one of the Parkland victims.
“Year after year, elected officials like Ashley Moody have done nothing on this issue, as more and more families like my own are forced to reckon with the loss of our loved ones due to military-grade assault weapons at Parkland, at Pulse, or at the next mass shooting,” Schwartz said.
Citizen groups seeking to put constitutional amendments on the ballot must gather nearly 800,000 voter signatures from around the state. The state Supreme Court is responsible for deciding whether the amendment addresses a single subject, as required, and whether or not the ballot title and summary are misleading.
The high court currently is reviewing six different proposals seeking to make the 2020 ballot. Moody has registered opposition to two of the measures so far.