Florida Supreme Court
Case No. SC19-1266
Jun 2020

Advisory Opinion: Prohibits Possession of Assault Weapons

Did Not Participate

Case Details

Decision

In a 4-1 decision, the Court ruled the amendment 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 Court argues that it is misleading to use the phrase "assault weapons" in the amendment's summary and the phrase "the person's possession" in the full text of the amendment.

  • 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 part the majority doesn't approve of] is not affirmatively misleading. In fact, the language is accurate ..."

In his dissent, he argues that other petitions the Court has reviewed have not been expected to get as explicit within the limited number of words allowed in the summary. He says that previously, voters have been expected to get a more complete understanding of petition summaries through research.

No Participation: Justice Couriel

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

Read the full ruling at 5cda.org

Background

Ban Assault Weapons NOW sponsored a petition to add an amendment to the 2022 ballot. The 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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