PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - Seventeen people lost their lives in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Seventeen more were injured.
In June of 2016, 49 people were killed in the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and 53 others were hurt. In both attacks, the shooters used high capacity semi-automatic rifles.
"These are the ones that we want off our streets, out of our communities," said Gail Schwartz, chairwoman of the Ban Assault Weapons now initiative, also known as BAWN.
The tragedies are the driving force behind a bipartisan effort to put gun control into the hands of Florida voters. BAWN is led in part by survivors of both deadly shootings. The goal is to put an amendment on the 2020 ballot in Florida to stop the purchase of any semiautomatic rifle and shotgun able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once. Those who already own the guns can keep them, with a requirement to register them with the state.
"We've already had in this country a 10-year assault weapon ban, so we know that this is legal," Schwartz explained, referencing the federal ban from 1994-2004.
Like so many pushing for change, the fight for Schwartz is personal.
"He was amazing. He was always smiling," she said, referring to her 14-year-old nephew Alex Schachter.
Schachter was a freshman in the marching band at Stoneman Douglas, and among the first students killed.
"All my brother did was send him to school," she said. "He was exactly where he was supposed to be."
Currently, she said the group has submitted around 120,000 signatures. Volunteers have been canvassing the state to circulate petitions, which then go to be verified at election offices.
It’s a costly, time-consuming process, made more difficult, according to Schwartz, by House Bill 5.
The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June and puts new burdens on petition-gathering and efforts to get issues on the ballot, including steep fines if they are not filed within a certain time frame.
"The legislators want to be the only ones that have a say in the laws of Florida, and they're afraid to give Floridians a voice," Schwartz said.
BAWN’s efforts have been met with strong opposition by some.
"Any time any government has ever registered firearms it's only been a matter of time before they decide to confiscate those firearms," said Eric Friday, general counsel for gun rights group Florida Carry.
Friday said the registration requirement is unacceptable for supporters of the Second Amendment, despite similar bans in place in other states.
He also called the proposal overly broad, and said it would ban nearly every type of semiautomatic rifle popular with gun owners.
"That includes the most popular hunting rifle given to youngsters who are learning to shoot, learning to squirrel hunt," he added.
Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody opposed the initiative and requested the state Supreme Court keep it off the ballot due to it being overly restrictive and potentially confusing to voters.
In a statement to Local 10, Moody’s spokesperson Lauren Schenone wrote:
"As a former prosecutor and judge, Attorney General Moody evaluates the legality of each initiative petition without regard for her own political preferences to determine whether (they) will be misleading to the voters. And regardless of your position on gun restrictions, the proposed ballot language is a trick. The drafters of this proposal selected language that hides the ball by defining “assault weapons” in a way that could arguably include virtually every semi-automatic long gun — even those that would never be described as assault weapons."
"We're talking about restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens who have broken no law," Friday added, "in order to control what criminals will or will not do."
But for Schwartz, the upside is clear.
"If we could stop the next Pulse or the next Parkland mass shooting, isn't it worth it?"
The group needs more than 766,200 signatures submitted by February.
Florida’s Supreme Court has scheduled its mandatory review of the ballot language for Feb. 4, a required step toward getting the issue to the voters.
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