MIAMI — Led by the congressman who represents Parkland and a neighboring mayor, a new Florida political committee called Ban Assault Weapons Now is advocating for a state constitutional amendment to halt the sale of tactical semiautomatic rifles.
The committee has a dual purpose: support a proposed 2018 constitutional amendment under consideration by the state’s Constitution Revision Commission or, if the amendment is rejected by the commission, draft a new proposal for the 2020 ballot.
“I would love to get the chance to get this done as soon as possible,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, a South Florida Democrat who stepped into the gun debate’s national spotlight after the deadly Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in his district in Parkland. He’s leading the effort with Coral Springs Mayor Walter “Skip” Campbell.
The nascent effort picks up where Democrats fell short in the waning days of the state session, when the response to the shooting dominated lawmakers’ attention. The Republican majority passed a law with unprecedented gun control —but not a ban on assault-style guns advocated by the minority party.
“The Legislature should have banned assault weapons when they had the chance during session. They didn’t,” Deutch said. “If it can be included now, terrific. Let’s do it now. But if not, we’ll work to put it on the ballot in 2020 and give the Legislature two more chances before the people have to take matters into their own hands.”
To do that, the committee has tentatively lined up about $100,000 in commitments and wants to raise about $250,000 in the coming months for its own amendment, which would be drafted by University of Florida law professor Jon Mills, who sat on the Constitution Revision Commission the last time it met 20 years ago and who drafted the successful medical marijuana amendment voters overwhelmingly approved in 2016.
Rounding out the team: political consultants Ben Pollara (who helped lead the medical marijuana amendment effort), Eric Johnson (former adviser to former Rep. Patrick Murphy) and Jon Adrabi (former fundraiser for Hillary Clinton and President Obama).
Deutch said he didn’t have much faith an assault weapons ban could make the ballot this year because the Constitution Revision Commission is stocked with appointees from Tallahassee Republicans, who have long resisted gun control. The commission heard a proposed “assault weapons” ban on Tuesday and will vote on it in the coming weeks. To make the 2018 ballot, the measure would need 22 of 37 commission votes.
Once on the ballot, a Florida constitutional amendment needs 60 percent of the vote to become law. A recent Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters found that 62 percent favored a ban on assault weapons,” but the term was not defined.
In the proposal taken up by the commission Tuesday, the definition of “assault weapon” — a controversial concept many gun owners find objectionable — is so broad that it could apply to nearly any type of semi-automatic rifle. According to Quinnipiac’s poll, support for banning all semiautomatic rifles is supported by 53 percent of Florida voters.
Deutch said that “the polls are pretty clear and they back up what I’m hearing from constituents every day — it’s Democrats and Republicans saying this — there is broad agreement that weapons of war, like the AR-15, have no place in our communities.”
The National Rifle Association’s lead Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, has declined to comment on any constitutional amendment calling for more gun control. The NRA opposed the new three-day waiting period and 21-year age limit for long gun purchases that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Friday. Hours after he approved the law, the NRA sued the state.
In reaction to the NRA lawsuit, two members of the Constitution Revision Commission proposed the assault weapons ban and also proposed enshrining the new age and waiting-period limits in the state constitution.
Campbell, a former Democratic state senator like Deutch, said “we don’t want to take people’s weapons away, but there’s no reason for selling weapons like the AR-15. It’s not really for hunting.”
As for banning semi-automatic rifles, the mayor said “I don’t want to do that. So we’re hiring Jon Mills to draft this and limit this in a way where we’re not taking people’s weapons away, but we’ll be saving people’s lives.”