On June 4, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court rejected as misleading the proposed citizen backed initiative that would have asked Florida citizens to vote in 2022 on whether to amend the Florida Constitution to include an explicit “assault weapon” ban. Under Florida law, citizens may propose an amendment or revision to any portion(s) of the Florida Constitution by filing a petition with the Secretary of State. The instant initiative was sponsored by Ban Assault Weapons Now and proposed amending Article I, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution – The Right to Bear Arms, including, in pertinent part, by adding language stating that “the possession of an assault weapon, as that term is defined in this subsection, is prohibited in Florida except as provided in this subsection.” The proposed ballot initiative provided for certain “Limitations,” including, in pertinent part, that a person who had lawful possession of an “assault weapon” prior to the Amendment’s effective date will be grandfathered in and that person’s possession would not become unlawful for (1) the first year after the Amendment becomes effective or (2) after that person registered the “assault weapon” with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement within the prescribed time to do so.
However, the ballot summary, which would be placed on the ballot in support of the proposed amendment, provided that the Initiative “exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date.” The Florida Supreme Court held that the ballot summary was misleading when compared to the Limitation. Specifically, the Court found that, while the ballot summary purports to exempt registered “assault weapons” lawfully possessed prior to the Amendment’s effective date, the Legislation as written only exempted the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon. The Court provided an example that, “if an individual registers and attests to lawful possession of an assault weapon, and then lends, gifts, or leaves in a will that assault weapon to a family member or friend, then that family member or friend would be in criminal violation of the Initiative – a felony offense. The summary indicates the opposite.” In turn, the Court held that the “affirmatively misleading” nature of the ballot summary does not comply with the requirements of Florida Statute 101.161(1), providing that the ballot summary must be unambiguous and cannot mislead voters as to the Amendment’s purpose. Accordingly, the Court ruled that the Initiative cannot be placed on the ballot. A copy of the decision can be found here.
Renzulli Law Firm, LLP will continue to monitor firearm related legislative initiatives and proposals nationwide. If you have any questions concerning firearms related legislation, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.