A group called Ban Assault Weapons Now had sponsored a ballot initiative to amend the Florida Constitution that would ban semi-automatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Those opposed to the amendment claimed the ballot summary violated state law, in that it misrepresented the full proposed amendment text.
On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court agreed.
While the parties have raised a number of issues for this Court’s consideration, we address only one issue that is dispositive—the ballot summary affirmatively misleads voters regarding the exemption addressed in the next to last sentence of the ballot summary, which provides that the Initiative “[e]xempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date.” This misleading language violates section 101.161(1), Florida Statutes (2019), which sets forth the requirements for the ballot title and summary of an initiative petition and provides as follows
For the reasons stated, we conclude that the ballot summary is misleading and does not comply with section 101.161(1), Florida Statutes. Accordingly, this Initiative cannot be placed on the ballot.
At issue was this portion of the summary:
Exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date.
The Court correctly noted that the initiative text does not really do that.
If a person had lawful possession of an assault weapon prior to the effective date of this subsection, the person’s possession of that assault weapon is not unlawful (1) during the first year after the effective date of this subsection, or (2) after the person has registered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or a successor agency, within one year of the effective date of this subsection, by providing a sworn or attested statement, that the weapon was lawfully in his or her possession prior to the effective date of this subsection and by identifying the weapon by make, model, and serial number.
If the firearm were exempt (subject to registration), its exemption would travel with it. But the initiative only protects the firearm’s current owner. The firearm could never be transferred again. The one owner would get amnesty, not the gun.
Note that the Court was not taking a position on the merits of the initiative. They were only evaluating whether the ballot summary accurately described it; it did not.
The good news is that the petitions that were signed to get this on the ballot used the same defective description, so they are invalid. BAWN will have to start over from scratch.
The better news is that supporters of the ban blew some $2,000,000 on the whole fiasco. They’ll have to start fundraising all over again, too.