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Florida Voters Denied Choice on Gun Restrictions as Constitution Commission Holsters Proposal

| March 23, 2018

gun restrictions constitution revision commission

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Floridians won’t have an opportunity to decide whether the state should ban semi-automatic weapons — or to weigh in on other gun-related restrictions — after the Constitution Revision Commission rejected attempts to debate the proposals Wednesday.


Efforts to take up gun-related issues came as the 37-member commission, which meets every 20 years, is narrowing a list of proposed constitutional amendments to place before voters on the November ballot.

A handful of commissioners floated proposals that would impose stricter gun regulations, such as a ban on assault-style weapons, following the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 14 students and three staff members were shot dead by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. Cruz, who had a lengthy history of mental health problems, used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle he purchased legally — with no waiting period — to carry out the shooting in Parkland.

Commissioner Roberto Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, proposed an amendment that mirrored gun restrictions imposed by a new Florida law, which raised the minimum age from 18 to 21 and imposed a three-day waiting period to purchase long guns, such as the one used by Cruz. Like the new law, Martinez’s amendment also called for banning “bump stocks,” devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to mimic automatic guns.

While lawmakers passed the age and waiting-period restrictions, putting such measures in the Constitution would make them more permanent — and harder to change. The Constitution Revision Commission has unique power to place proposals directly on the ballot.

Martinez, a Republican who said he owns three guns, said he met with students from the Parkland school and others while researching the issue.

“They’re not gun-grabbers. But what these students and the young people are asking for are reasonable laws to make sure that guns don’t get into the hands of the wrong people,” Martinez argued. “That’s all they want. And they want an opportunity to vote … to put into our Constitution those same very meaningful and reasonable firearm safety restrictions that are now included in the act.”

But Martinez tried to add the amendment to another commission proposal (Proposal 3) that deals with property rights of certain immigrants. Commissioner Emery Gainey, who works for Attorney General Pam Bondi and was appointed to the constitution-revision panel by Gov. Rick Scott, challenged whether the amendment had anything to do with the underlying proposal.

“I have personally seen the carnage that it (a semi-automatic weapon) does to the human body,” Gainey, who’s spent three decades in law enforcement, said. “I think it’s a discussion that Floridians ought to have. … There’s a proper forum. I don’t think this is it.”

As they did on two other gun-related proposals, a majority of the commission refused to allow a debate on Martinez’s amendment after Rules and Administration Chairman Tim Cerio decided the proposal was “not germane” to the underlying proposal.

“It’s not even a close call,” Cerio, a former general counsel to Scott, said.

Martinez appealed the decision and asked that the rules be waived, because the Feb. 14 shooting occurred after an Oct. 31 deadline for proposals to be submitted.

But Bondi, who serves on the constitution-revision panel, said commissioners had plenty of time to file proposals following the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead.

“To say that the shooting came up recently, well, we had Pulse nightclub a year ago. You’ve all known that from day one. No one did anything on that,” she said.

But Martinez argued that people should be allowed to “have a voice” and “publicly debate” what has become “the issue of the day” for Floridians.

“There was mention of the awful tragedy at Pulse, where the gay community was targeted. That was an awful massacre. And what did the Legislature do about that? Anybody want to raise their hands? No hands? That’s because they did nothing,” Martinez said.

He urged the commission to echo the actions of “the political leadership of this state” this year, saying Scott and the Legislature had “basically been unshackled to address this issue,” despite pressure from powerful special interests. The National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit shortly after Scott signed the new law and has targeted Republican legislators who supported the measure.

“What is the harm done, if we were to go forward, debate this issue and vote on it? I can’t see any harm,” he said. “What is the benefit? The benefit is unlimited.”

The motion to waive the rules failed on a voice vote.

Commissioner Chris Smith, a former state senator from Fort Lauderdale, met with an identical response — a challenge to germanity — when he attempted to introduce an amendment that would ban assault-style weapons.

Smith, a Democrat, noted that the Legislature debated the assault-weapons ban during the annual session, which ended March 11.

But Florida voters “want to have a voice on this,” he said.

“It’s being debated right now in your home offices. It’s being debated in the parking lots of Publix. It’s being debated throughout this state. We are in a unique opportunity to give those 20 million a chance to actually vote on it,” he said.

The majority also rejected taking up Smith’s amendment.

Wednesday’s CRC actions came after House Speaker Richard Corcoran — targeted by the National Rifle Association following the passage of the new gun restrictions — wrote in a letter to commissioners that he had a “grave concern” about amendments “that are inappropriate for inclusion in the state Constitution.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, said he opposed proposals seeking an assault-weapons ban and an “extended” waiting period.

Firearm policies “are best left to the purview of an elected legislature in a constitutional republic,” the speaker wrote Wednesday morning.

“The Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. All firearm policies flow from that fundamental right and should remain policy matters for the Legislature,” Corcoran wrote.

Noting that Corcoran had essentially told the Constitution Revision Commission to mind its own business, Commissioner Hank Coxe, a Jacksonville lawyer, offered a proposal that included a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of guns.

Coxe, who was appointed by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, said the commission had signed off on numerous proposals that lawmakers refused to pass — including a potential ban on greyhound racing and a victim’s rights measure known as “Marsy’s Law.”

“The legacy of the CRC is, as we stand here now given the germanity issue, that we worry about victim’s rights in Marsy’s Law, that we worry about the greyhounds, but, because of adherence to this rule, we do not worry about reducing the number of people murdered in the state of Florida,” Coxe said. “Forget germanity. Just waive the rules.”

But, again on a voice vote, a majority of the commission refused to waive the rules, and Coxe’s amendment failed.

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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13 Responses for “Florida Voters Denied Choice on Gun Restrictions as Constitution Commission Holsters Proposal”

  1. Richard says:

    We need more people who have the wisdom, knowledge and common sense to govern our state versus existing politicians. Politicians have only two things important to them, getting your votes and stuffing their deep pockets with cash.

  2. Rhonda says:

    We need to vote out those who do not represent their constituents.

    Did you know there was a Proposal 95 that failed, but this is what it said (in a nutshell, take away local control):

    LOCAL GOVERNMENT, Regulation of commerce, trade, or labor; a new Section 6 of Article VIII of the State Constitution and to renumber present section 6 of that article to limit the power of a county, municipality, or special district to regulate commerce, trade, or labor unless the regulation applies exclusively within the respective entity’s own boundaries in a manner not prohibited by law, and to specify that such regulation may not intrude upon or impede commerce, trade, or labor across the respective entity’s boundaries.

    These are our legislators at work – trying to remove any local control so the legislators can continue to stay in the pockets of the lobbyists.

    Let’s vote them out, and only vote those in who “walk the walk” – and actually represent their constituents.

  3. Mark says:

    Well, if you don’t want guns to get in the wrong hands improve the communication between health care, mental health agencies, schools, police, military and tighten up background checks. Simple! Make it easier for police to snatch the guns from the wrong hands. Make it easier to send mentally ill people to the hospital. Make it easier for each agency to check if the wrong hands and their family members have any guns to take away. Get rid of professional politicians. Term limits on every office!

  4. Dave says:

    It’s common sense to ban any rifle that uses a magazine ,any gun really. Anything semi automatic is not necessary

  5. Stan says:

    Richard well said you got my vote!

  6. Trailer Bob says:

    To take away the rights of American citizens due to the despicable acts of some mentally ill people is ridiculous. So for every 500,000 law abiding citizens with guns they use for protection and sport, they should have their rights and hobbies taken away due to the acts of a handful of insane, sick, and hateful people who happen to use a gun to perform their sick rituals? Far more people die each day from drugs, but we don’t stop allowing patients who have an ailment that those medications can help from using them. How many people are killed when a jet airliner crashes? We must be careful not to get so caught up in the crazy world of mass shooting by the sick that we forget about the rest of us law abiding citizens who would have our rights taken away. What scares me is the idea that the majority of voters (most who do not partake in the sport of shooting) would vote on what the minority of us legal and sane gun owners can do or have.

  7. Dave says:

    If shooting is your sport, you dont need a gun with a magazine, you can load your bullets one at a time. Also not that many people die in plane crashes each year.

  8. smarterthanmost says:

    @dave

    Why, then criminals won’t get them?

  9. Dave says:

    Its less about criminals, and more about mass shooters, there
    is a big difference, most all mass shooters have used guns purchased legally. Criminals use guns on other criminals, once in awhile there is a stick up robbery with a handgun. Its funny to see so many law abiding gun totting civilians try and hide behind criminals.

  10. kevin says:

    This is a great quote: “Firearm policies ‘are best left to the purview of an elected legislature in a constitutional republic,'”…. in other words it is a heck of a lot easier for the lobbyists of the NRA to affect change with only a small number of legislators that they can buy off vs an entire electorate. A statewide advertising campaign to influence voters is much more expensive and less effective than cash donations into the coffers of the legislature. Add to that the fact that those same lobbyists have gerrymandered the districts to suit their agenda and controlling the legislative agenda is a slam-dunk sure thing. Don’t mess with what works and risk losing power is what this speaker meant to say, to heck with the voice of the people and democracy what do they know?

  11. Rhonda says:

    Well said, Kevin.

    If we don’t vote out these legislators who are in the pockets of the NRA and other special interests, shame on us.

  12. Anonymous says:

    We need guns with magazines, with bump stocks and with automatic capabilities to keep our government from suppressing us. This is why we have the 2nd Amendment. What good is it going to be for us if our automatic weapons and means to defend ourselves from our government is taken away and we are helpless….you got it! We should have the same means to protect ourselves as our government has to suppress us and take our rights away. Some of our government leaders don’t conduct themselves properly so does that mean we take our leaders out of office? It is time the BS with the 2nd Amendment and gun rights stops. What needs to be done is proper training and the generation doing all the drama be held accountable….the same generation doing all the protesting and bitching is the same generation doing all the school shootings.

  13. smarterthanmost says:

    tick tock…

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