After failing in the state legislature, Florida voters could decide on an assault weapons ban

Two ballot proposals could give Parkland student activists what they've asked for.

Supporters spell 'change' during a rally at the Florida State Capitol to address gun control on February 21, 2018. CREDIT: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images
Supporters spell 'change' during a rally at the Florida State Capitol to address gun control on February 21, 2018. CREDIT: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Florida voters may get the chance to vote on two sweeping gun control proposals during the upcoming midterm election.

State legislators submitted two proposals over the weekend that would fill the gaps left by a gun bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Friday. One of the proposals would classify nearly any semi-automatic weapon as an “assault weapon,” while also banning transfer of assault weapons, whether by sale or gift. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission is slated to hear the proposals on Tuesday.

Advertisement

The measures were proposed shortly after the National Rifle Association announced it would sue the state. The NRA made the announcement after Scott signed The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which raised the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21 and extended the waiting period to three days for the purchase of all firearms. It also ceded more power to law enforcement to seize weapons and prohibited the sale of “bump stocks” — the gun accessory used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history that increases the rate of fire for semi-automatic weapons. The measure also allowed some school personnel to be armed.

According to Marion Hammer, the state’s most powerful NRA lobbyist, the NRA chose to sue the state on the grounds that the law “violate[s] the constitutional rights of 18- to 21-year-olds.” The NRA, however, has long advocated for more guns in schools, which the Florida law would accomplish. In spite of this, the gun lobby has opposed the Florida legislation, saying it “punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual.”

The legislation signed into law Friday does not include an assault weapons ban or universal background checks: two measures that gun control advocates in Florida, led by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who survived the shooting, have pushed for. The governor himself acknowledged as much while signing the bill. “You made your voices heard,” he told the students. “You helped change your state. You made a difference. You should be proud.”

Advertisement

In the weeks after the school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty, the Florida legislature rejected a ban on assault rifles, despite pleas from students. They watched on from the gallery as lawmakers squashed one of the explicit demands from their march on the Florida Capitol. Instead of taking up a vote to even debate the bill, lawmakers chose to decide whether pornography is a public health crisis. A measure to ban assault weapons was ultimately voted down by the Florida Senate.

The ballot measures would be a huge win not just for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school and their families, but also for a majority of Florida residents: according to recent polling after the shooting, a majority in the state are in favor of both increased age restrictions and bans on semi-automatic weapons. A February 28 Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters found that they approve of an assault weapons ban by 62 to 33 percent and want all gun buyers to be 21 or older by 78 to 20 percent. Eighty-seven percent said they support waiting periods of an indeterminate period of time for all gun buys.

The proposals first have to be approved by the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years with the goal of updating the state constitution. They both require 22 votes from the 37-member panel to make the ballot. Once on the ballot, 60 percent of Floridians must sign off on the amendment to become part of Florida’s state constitution.