A proposed ban on so-called assault weapons will not appear on the 2022 ballot in Florida, after the state supreme court issued a 4-1 decision stating that the language of the ballot initiative doesn’t meet the legal requirements to appear before voters. Organizers for the ban originally hoped to get the ballot before voters this fall, but failed to get enough signatures from Florida residents to qualify this year. The anti-gun campaigners then set their sights on the 2022 election, but the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody questioned the language in the initiative, and on Thursday a majority of justices on the court found that wording used by gun control advocates was indeed misleading to voters.
Thursday’s 4-1 decision focused on part of the ballot summary that said the initiative “exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date.”
The court majority, made up of Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson and Carlos Muniz, said that provision “affirmatively misleads voters regarding the exemption” because of a contradiction with the broader text of the proposed constitutional amendment.
The contradiction involves whether the exemption would apply to weapons or to the people who possess the weapons. The distinction could be important, for instance, if a gun owner dies.
“Specifically, the next to last sentence of the ballot summary informs voters that the initiative ‘exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date’ … when in fact the initiative does no such thing,” the majority opinion said. “Contrary to the ballot summary, the initiative’s text exempts only ‘the person’s,’ meaning the current owner’s, possession of that assault weapon.”
The proposal “does not categorically exempt the assault weapon, only the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon,” the majority added.
Gun control groups claimed that the average voter in Florida would be able to understand the difference between the legal possession of the firearm, and the fact that the firearm itself would be illegal for anyone other than the current owner to possess. The justices on the state’s highest court didn’t buy the argument.