Ban Assault Weapons NOW or BAWN sought to have an assault weapons ban inserted into Article 1, Section 8, Right to Bear Arms, of the Florida Constitution. They did this with a so-called citizens initiative petition which would have put the constitutional change on the ballot.
BAWN, who characterized themselves as a “bipartisan, grassroots movement”, was spawned after the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Their leadership includes such luminaries as Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), David “Camera” Hogg, and Fred Guttenberg. It is considered “bipartisan” because it has a couple of former Republican office holders on its committee. Partner organizations include Brady Campaign (now Brady United), the Newtown Alliance, and March for our Lives.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R-FL) sought an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court as to the validity of the constitutional initiative. Today the Florida Supreme Court issued their advisory opinion.
They concluded that the proposed initiative should not be placed on the ballot in a Per Curiam decision. It was a four to one decision with one justice not participating.
The court’s review was limited to two issues: did the proposed amendement satisfy the single-subject requirement and whether the ballot title and summary satisfy the requirements of the Florida statutes. They don’t address the merit or wisdom of the proposed initiative.
The court addressed the latter issue and found that the ballot summary mislead voters as to the exemption contained in the ballot summary in the next to last sentence. That sentence read, “Exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date.”
Here, the ballot summary fails to satisfy the requirements of section
101.161(1) and is affirmatively misleading because the meaning of the text of the ballot summary does not accurately describe the meaning of the Initiative’s text regarding the exemption.
Specifically, the next to last sentence of the ballot summary informs voters
that the Initiative “[e]xempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date” (emphasis added), when in fact the Initiative does no such thing. Contrary to the ballot summary, the Initiative’s text exempts only “the person’s,” meaning the current owner’s, possession of that assault weapon.
They go on to add:
While the ballot summary purports to exempt registered assault
weapons lawfully possessed prior to the Initiative’s effective date, the Initiative does not categorically exempt the assault weapon, only the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon. The ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading.
Since they found the ballot summary “affirmatively misleading”, it didn’t comply with Section 101.161(1) of the Florida Statutes and thus cannot be on the ballot.
Attorney General Moody had attacked the initiative from the very beginning. She continued her attack by calling it “deceitful and misleading”. Moody said the ban, if approved, would have banned “virtually every self-loading long gun.”
She was right. It would have banned everything from Glenfield tube-fed .22 rifles to every AR and AK. Moreover, it would have made possession by unregistered people a third-degree felony.
Congratulations to Attorney General Moody and to the NRA and NSSF who filed as “interested parties” on the win.
One must wonder how long it will take before BAWN and their partners are back seeking signatures on an amended petition. I would hope that all the new gun owners who might have supported this in the past have now come to their senses and will reject any new such petition.
The full Per Curiam opinion can be found here.