Florida attorney general fights to keep assault weapons ban off ballot

Ashley Moody contends proposal goes far beyond banning so-called assault weapons

AP Photo/Steve Cannon

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks at a pre-legislative news conference, Jan. 30, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's attorney general has asked the state Supreme Court to disqualify a proposed ballot measure seeking to ban assault weapons.

Backers of the proposed constitutional amendment are currently collecting signatures to qualify the initiative for the 2020 ballot.

In a letter to the court submitted Friday, Attorney General Ashley Moody contends that the measure is "misleading" and that the court should move to keep the matter from voters. She argues that the proposal goes far beyond banning so-called assault weapons and could also ban the possession of all semi-automatic long guns.

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.

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

The chair of the group Ban Assault Weapons NOW is the aunt of a student killed in last year's Parkland school shootings.

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

Proponents said 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," Lauren Schenone said in a statement. "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. 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."

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