Is the Ban Assault Weapons Now proposed constitutional amendment understandable?
Bottom Line: In February, after nearly a year of discussion of loosely defined assault weapons, the gun control organization formed in the wake of the attack at Stoneman Douglas put specific language to their desire to ban “assault weapons”. The language was and is key because it’s what the organization will present to the Florida Supreme Court for possible inclusion on the 2020 ballot in Florida. This week Florida’s Attorney General, Ashley Moody, stated she intends to challenge the language when presented to Florida’s high court. Her quote was that the language is clearly and conclusively defective. So, is it? While we wait for the looming battle (no court date has yet been set), here’s the proposed language once again.
Ballot Language: Prohibits possession of assault weapons, defined as semiautomatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device. Possession of handguns is not prohibited. Exempts military and law enforcement personnel in their official duties. Exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date. Creates criminal penalties for violations of this amendment.
First question. Is it clearly understandable? After starting with the superfluous rhetoric of “prohibiting the possession of assault weapons”, which is aimed at an emotional response rather than a pragmatic one, it does specifically define what would be banned. But is the language clear enough that you can make an informed decision? That’s going to be a key dividing line in this argument. What comes to mind for me are the disingenuous “penny sales tax” ballot questions approved for school districts by voters. I heard from numerous voters after the fact that thought that the sales tax increases were only a penny per purchase rather than a 1% tax increase on all taxable purchases. Those questions started out in a similar way – citing the “penny tax” first before describing what it really meant which was far more confusing.
One of the long-standing issues we have and have had in Florida with ballot questions is clever marketing and rhetoric wrapped around a not-so-easy to understand ballot question. They generally pass because, for whatever reason, history has shown that if someone doesn’t fully understand what a question is asking they’re far more likely to vote for it than against it. This feels like a different version of a similar thing. Remove the initial five words of this proposal and I may feel differently. What do you think?