Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody seeks to block assault weapons ban ballot drive

Posted at 6:04 PM, Jul 29, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's attorney general asked the state Supreme Court to disqualify a proposed ballot measure seeking to ban assault weapons, saying the measure goes too far in outlawing the possession of all semi-automatic long guns.

Beleaguered by a spate of high-profile gun-related violence, including last year's Parkland school shootings that killed 13 students and four adults, backers of the proposed constitutional amendment say they have collected more than 100,000 of the 766,200 signatures needed to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

Attorney General Ashley Moody is attempting to derail the effort by asking the state's high court to rule that the proposal is "misleading" because it does not adequately spell out the ramifications that the measure would have on gun ownership.

The measure's six-word title and five-sentence summary fail to disclose the true nature of the measure, she claimed. She also said it would effectively outlaw the possession of virtually every semi-automatic long-barreled firearm, including shotguns and rifles -- a point disputed by advocates of the ballot measure.

In a letter to the court submitted Friday, Moody contended that "voters will not be able to understand the true meaning and ramifications of the proposed amendment, making the ballot language clearly and conclusively defective."

On Monday, the group behind the proposed ban accused the attorney general of "playing politics" to appease the gun lobby.

"What they're saying is false, and frankly they are spreading lies as a way to scare voters," said Gail Schwartz, the chair of the group Ban Assault Weapons NOW and the aunt of Alex Schachter, one of the students killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.

"By now Floridians know that we cannot depend on our elected leadership to provide our safety, and therefore we as citizens of Florida are going to do it ourselves," Schwartz said.

Proponents say the ban does not ban handguns or many firearms used for hunting.

Last month, the group and other gun-control advocates gathered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where a gunman killed 49 people in 2016. There they announced that they had gathered more than 103,000 signatures since launching their ballot drive in February.

The ballot measure would widen the definition of what constitutes an "assault weapon" to include any semi-automatic rifle or shotgun capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition using a fixed or detachable magazine or that uses an ammunition-feeding device.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said the language was problematic.

"Regardless of your position on gun restrictions, this proposed ballot language is a trick. The drafters of this proposal have confused voters by creating a misleading definition of 'assault weapons' which would include a majority of the most popular hunting rifles and shotguns," the spokeswoman, Lauren Schenone, said in a statement.

"In effect, the amendment would ban future sales and possession of these hunting rifles and shotguns and require the registration of owners who already possess them."