Push to let Florida voters decide gun restrictions fails

Posted at 9:31 AM, Mar 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-22 13:05:49-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Floridians won't get a chance to vote this fall on adding gun control restrictions to the state constitution.

A powerful but somewhat obscure state panel on Wednesday rejected several proposed restrictions — including a ban on types of semi-automatic rifles — on procedural grounds.

The move by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission comes more than a month after 17 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The killings shook Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature into action. Legislators defied the National Rifle Association by passing a far-reaching law that raised the age limit to purchase a rifle to 21 and put in waiting period for rifle purchases.

Some Stoneman students and family members of victims wanted voters to be able to weigh in as well. Tony Montalto, whose daughter was among those slain, had asked commissioners earlier this month to take action because the NRA filed a federal lawsuit against the new law.

The commission meets every 20 years and has the authority ask voters to make changes to the state constitution. Its members were appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, legislative leaders and the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

A majority of commissioners said it would be wrong to waive the panel's rules in order to consider the gun control measures since they were being attached to another proposal that had nothing to do with guns.

"I do agree that ideas should not scare us, but not following the rule — the rules that we all share by being on this commission — should scare everyone," said Attorney General Pam Bondi, one of the commission's 37 members.

After the meeting, Bondi said she did not agree with placing any of the restrictions in the constitution because the Legislature had already acted.

A handful of commissioners pleaded with the panel to respond to the shootings and act now. They noted the Parkland massacre came after the deadline passed for most proposals to be considered.

Roberto Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, wanted the commission to put before voters a proposal that would place in the constitution the same restrictions that were in the recently-enacted state law. He said he had recently met with some of the students who were at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on the day of the shootings.

"They're not gun-grabbers," Martinez said. "What these students and these young people are asking for are reasonable laws to make sure that guns don't get into the hands of the wrong people. That's all they want. And they want an opportunity to vote."

The procedural votes against the gun control measures came several hours after House Speaker Richard Corcoran sent a letter to the commission saying he had "grave concerns" about the measures. Corcoran, who has been sharply criticized by the NRA for backing the newly-enacted law, said in his letter that "all firearm policies flow" from the right to bear arms and "should remain policy matters for the Legislature."

Two of the proposals rejected on Wednesday would have asked voters whether they wanted to ban a type of semi-automatic rifle.

Hank Coxe, a Jacksonville attorney who backed the ban, said he could not understand how the commission was unwilling to waive its rules to consider having a full debate on the measure. He noted that the commission was currently considering other wide-ranging measures, including whether or not to eliminate greyhound racing in the state.

"We worry about the greyhounds, but, because of adherence to this rule, we do not worry about reducing the number of people murdered in the state of Florida," Coxe said.