Florida Supreme Court
Case No. SC19-1266
June 2020

Advisory Opinion: Prohibits Possession of Assault Weapons

Did Not Participate

Case Details


In a 4-1 decision, the majority ruled the proposed amendment to ban the future sale of semiautomatic assault rifles should not be placed on the ballot. The ruling reads:

"... [the amendment is] misleading because the meaning of the text of the ballot summary does not accurately describe the meaning of the Initiative’s text regarding the exemption."

In the decision, the majority argues that it is misleading to use the phrase "assault weapons" in the proposed amendment's summary and the phrase "the person's possession" in the full text of the amendment. The majority says the summary misleads voters to think the assault weapon itself is exempt, when the details show it is the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon that is exempt. They add that if a lawfully possessed assault weapon changes ownership, the new owner would be in violation of the proposed amendment.

The text in question:

  • The summary states: “[e]xempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date”.
  • The full initiative states: "If a person had lawful possession of an assault weapon prior to the effective date ..., the person’s possession of that assault weapon is not unlawful ..."

Dissent: Justice Labarga

"The ballot title clearly communicates the chief purpose of the Initiative, and the ballot summary clearly summarizes the content ... [The proposed amendment] is not affirmatively misleading. In fact, the language is accurate ..."

In his dissent, Labarga argues that the ballot title (Prohibits possession of defined assault weapons) clearly communicates the main purpose for the proposed amendment. He says the summary clearly explains the proposed amendment's content. It is accurate, and the majority's complaint is that the "language is insufficiently narrow".

He reminds this Court the ballot summary meant to be a summary of 75 words or less. This Court has ruled previously that it is not expected or required that the summary reveal the complete details of the proposed amendment. This Court has also previously ruled that when reviewing proposed amendments it should assume voters look at the details of an amendment before voting.

He would have approved this proposed amendment for the 2022 ballot.

No Participation: Justice Couriel

Justice Couriel did not vote. He was sworn June 1, too late to participate.

Read the full ruling


Ban Assault Weapons NOW sponsored a petition to add an amendment to the 2022 ballot. The proposed amendment would have banned the future sale of semiautomatic assault rifles throughout Florida. The group began the petition drive after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the Court if the petition is clear enough to be added to the ballot. Would the amendment exempt a legally registered assault rifle, or its owner? If it exempts the owner, would the weapon be banned if it changed ownership?

Arguments against the petition were submitted by: Moody, the National Rifle Association, and National Shooting Sports Foundation. Arguments supporting the petition were submitted by: Brady, Team ENOUGH, multiple municipalities, and the petition's sponsor, Ban Assault Weapons NOW.

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