Floridians will not vote on adding gun control measures to the state constitution this year because a state board, citing technical rules, rejected the proposals Wednesday.
The 37-member Constitution Review Commission is an obscure yet powerful body that meets every 20 years to propose changes to the Florida constitution, which are then put on the November ballot. During a marathon meeting in the Capitol, several commissioners from both parties tried to add three different gun-related amendments to a proposal related to land ownership.
Because the deadline to propose original ballot measures passed before the Feb. 14 Parkland massacre, some commissioners hoped to amend existing proposals so they could get the gun measures before voters.
But a majority of commissioners repeatedly declared the amendments were on a topic unrelated to the existing proposal and refused to waive the rules, preventing even a discussion of adding permanent gun restrictions to the state constitution.
“This is a once-in-20-years issue,” said Commissioner Roberto Martinez, an influential attorney from Miami and a Republican, who proposed one of the amendments. “Please do not give up this opportunity.”
His amendment would have put on the ballot the same gun measures that were signed into law last week by Gov. Rick Scott: a three-day waiting period, raising the gun purchasing age to 21 and banning bump stocks.
Martinez said enshrining the measures into the constitution could shield the state from lawsuits claiming the new law is unconstitutional. Two legal challenges have already been filed by gun owner groups against the newly-minted law, one of which alleges the state constitution’s rules on property ownership prohibit the new ban of bump stocks.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker Richard Corcoran sent a letter to the Commission saying he had “grave concern” about these “inappropriate” amendments because restrictions on the right to bear arms are “matters that are best left to the purview of an elected legislature.”
The letter came after Corcoran was called out by name in a Monday email blast from Florida’s NRA lobbyist, Marion Hammer, for his support of the gun control measures passed by the Legislature. He is considering a run for governor.
Two other amendments, which also failed, would have put an assault weapons ban on the ballot. One of those amendments also added a 10-day waiting period and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
“These amendments substantially expand the scope of the original proposal. … That’s a dangerous precedent,” said Commissioner and state Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. “What we’re being asked to do … is to violate the rules we all share.”
Martinez slammed the commission for using the deadline as an excuse to avoid the issue at a time when Florida has newfound interest on restricting some access to guns.
In contrast, he brought up the way the state reacted to the Pulse nightclub massacre in the summer of 2016, when 49 people were killed.
“What did the Legislature do about that? Anybody want to raise their hands? No hands — that’s because they did nothing,” he said. “I understand deadlines but this was not an issue that was attracting the attention of the public and the political leadership until the tragedy occurred and it wasn’t until then that political leaders demonstrated tremendous will to do the right thing.”
Contact Emily L. Mahoney at email@example.com. Follow @mahoneysthename.