With the first gun control measure signed into law in decades, a key Republican member of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission has drafted a proposal to make sure the age limits and waiting period stand up to any constitutional challenge from opponents.
The proposal, by Miami attorney and CRC member Roberto Martinez, was filed with the CRC on Friday, just moments after Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 7026 into law, which bans the sale of any firearm in Florida to anyone under the age of 21, imposes a three-day waiting period on all handgun purchases and bans bump stocks.
The CRC meets once every 20 years with the goal of updating the state constitution. It has the power to put directly onto the November 2018 ballot proposed constitutional amendment. The group holds its final public hearing Tuesday, March 13, in St. Petersburg at the University of South Florida University Student Center. Martinez's proposal will be amended to one of the three dozen existing proposals under consideration.
Minutes after the governor signed the bill, Washington lawyers for the National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law, alleging it violates the Second Amendment. The Martinez proposal would place the firearm safety measure of the law into the constitution, fortifying the law against a state constitutional challenge, not a federal one.
"I think the law is constitutional," said Martinez, a partner at Colson Hicks Edison and former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. "Can lawyers come up with arguments against it? Of course. To the extent this eliminates any constitutional challenges, we should adopt it."
Martinez said he has spoken with individual members of the 37-member CRC to discuss his proposal and "everybody has said they are open to considering it. There has been strong support from some,'' he said.
He commended the new law as "an excellent example of political leadership and public advocacy, particularly by the parents of the victims of the Parkland massacre and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, bringing together diverse views to find common ground.
"The CRC should put the proposed amendment on the ballot in November, allowing the voters to cast their support," Martinez said. .
The state's gun laws were most recently challenged last year, in a case involving the ban on carrying firearms in the open. Backed by the Second Amendment group Florida Carry, the plaintiff, Dale Norman, challenged his 2012 arrest for openly carrying a gun in a holster. Norman, who had a concealed-weapons license, was found guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor and a judge imposed a $300 fine and court costs.
The state's 4th District Court of Appeal and the Florida Supreme Court ruled against Norman, with the three of the justices whose terms expire this year voting in the majority. Two conservative justices, Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, dissented and the third conservative justice, Alan Lawson, recused himself.
Norman appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court declined to hear it, leaving the lower court ruling in place. With the three more liberal justices leaving the court this year, the composition of the court could change and change the trajectory of future gun law challenges.
Putting a gun control amendment onto the November ballot, however, has its challenges. The gun lobby has aggressively opposed it and it could provide an opportunity to highlight the issue among the active voters in their membership and use it to work against candidates who support it. If approved, it could also serve as a modest foundation for future gun control measures that go beyond where the Florida Legislature has urged members to go.
Several Marjory Stoneman Douglas students traveled to Cape Coral last week to speak at the CRC public hearing, urging the panel to adopt a constitutional amendment to ban semi-automatic, assault-style weapons and ban high-capacity magazines.
"Seventeen of my fellow friends and amazing individuals who wanted to change the world and no longer can," said David Hogg, a member of the student-led #NeverAgain movement and MSD student. He urged them to put a gun control measure on the ballot "and bring this to the people of Florida…We must stand up now to take action."
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that the legislation bans the sale of any firearm in Florida to anyone under the age of 21. An earlier version was incorrect.