In a long-shot bid to get an amendment on the November ballot to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, a member of the Constitution Revision Commission is asking the panel to adopt his proposal to prohibit the sale and transfer of the semiautomatic weapons.
The proposal by former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith was filed with the CRC on Monday. It is the second gun control measure filed since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 and injured 17 others.
The first was filed on Friday by Miami attorney Roberto Martinez, which would put into the constitution the gun control limits signed into law last week by Gov. Rick Scott. That measure, SB 7026, bans the sale of any firearm in Florida to anyone under the age of 21, imposes a three-day waiting period on all handgun purchases, and bans bump stocks.
Martinez’s amendment would fortify the existing law against legal challenges from the gun lobby by placing the language directly into the constitution. It does not include the most controversial part of the law that arms school employees.
SB 7026 was narrowly approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which repeatedly voted down amendments by Democratic lawmakers to put a ban on semiautomatic weapons, like the AR-15 assault-style rifle used by the shooter in Parkland. Scott said he does not support such a ban.
The CRC meets once every 20 years with the goal of updating the state constitution. It has the power to put directly onto the November 2018 ballot proposed constitutional amendments. The panel holds its final public hearing Tuesday, March 13, in St. Petersburg at the University of South Florida University Student Center, and a busload of students and activists from Parkland plan to attend.
Smith’s proposal faces the same steep odds before the 37-member CRC, which was appointed predominantly by Republicans — Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga also named three members. Smith needs 22 votes to get his proposal onto the ballot.
Smith said in a statement that the CRC should at least give Floridians a chance to decide.
“Since the 2016 horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and especially after the Valentine’s Day tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School, Floridians have signaled their support for an assault weapons ban,” said Smith, a member of the CRC.
Several left-leaning organizations sent a letter to the CRC on Monday urging them to include a ban on assault-style weapons on the ballot in November.
“It is no secret that these issues are politically charged, making it difficult or impossible for the Legislature to make any real change,” the groups wrote in a letter. “Your Constitution Revision Commission is uniquely positioned to rise above the politics and move some real solutions to the ballot so that Florida Voters have the opportunity to have their voices heard.”
They cited recent polls: a Quinnipiac poll that found 62 percent of Florida voters support a nationwide ban on the sale of “assault weapons;” a Florida Atlantic University poll that found a majority of voters across every party affiliation support stricter gun laws and 69 percent support a ban on assault-style rifles; a survey by Public Policy Polling that found 74 percent of Floridians would like the opportunity to vote on a weapons ban.
“Under each one of these polls, a constitutional ban would be approved by Florida voters,” the letter concluded.
The groups include the Anti-Defamation League, Equality Florida, First Amendment Foundation of Florida, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida NOW, Florida Policy Institute, League of Women Voters Florida, National Council of Jewish Women, Mi Familia Vota, Progress Florida, SEIU Florida and Sierra Club Florida.
Under Smith’s proposal, the legislature may enact legislation within the amendment’s framework to provide exceptions to the prohibition on the transfer of assault weapons legally possessed prior to the effective date of the ban.
In his amendment, an “assault weapon” is defined as a semiautomatic rifle that is able to accept a detachable magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that is capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, or that has a fixed magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
If successful, and if 60 percent of Florida’s voters then sign off on the Smith amendment, the assault weapons ban would become part of Florida’s state constitution.