‘Deceitful and misleading’: Florida’s attorney general slams weapons ban proposal after mass shootings

Ashley Moody said the ban proposed for the 2020 ballot would apply to her grandfather’s rifle 60 years ago.
Attorney General Ashley Moody talks with reporters on Monday. [Florida Channel]
Attorney General Ashley Moody talks with reporters on Monday. [Florida Channel]
Published Aug. 5, 2019|Updated Aug. 6, 2019

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody told reporters Monday that she’s not backing off her push to remove a proposed assault rifle ban from next year’s ballot, even after this weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

Speaking in Jacksonville at an unrelated news conference, Moody called the proposed ban “deceitful and misleading,” and said it would ban the sale of antique rifles like the one owned by her grandfather 60 years ago.

“It is so far-reaching and misleading, it would also include guns like the gun my grandfather gave my father and his brother when they were 9 and 10, 60 years ago,” she said.

She added, “We’re not just talking about these types of weapons that we saw this weekend. We’re talking about virtually every self-loading long gun.”

(You can view her comments here. Go to the 6:50 mark.)

Moody last month said she will tell the Florida Supreme Court that a proposed change to the constitution banning the sale of assault weapons shouldn’t go before voters in 2020 because it was broad and vague.

The decision was praised by gun rights groups. But she received new criticism for her stance over the weekend, after gunmen in two states used military-style assault rifles to kill more than 30 people.

Moody tweeted Saturday that she was “horrified and saddened” by the first shooting, in El Paso, but made no mention of guns. Like many other top Republicans, she instead shifted attention elsewhere, particularly on mental health. She wrote “we must get better at detecting deranged individuals who intend to do us harm.”

The leaders of Florida’s House and Senate denounced “white nationalism,” but did not say specifically what they would be doing about it.

On Monday, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, noted that in the wake of the 2018 shooting in Parkland, the Legislature passed several school safety and gun-control reforms, including raising the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21.

He said he was assigning a committee led by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, to “review and better understand the various factors involved in mass shootings.”

“The Florida Senate will work even harder to ensure the safety of those we serve,” Galvano said in a statement.

His counterpart in the Florida House, however, Rep. José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, seemed to suggest there was nothing government can or should do.

“We must ask ourselves more than ‘what to do’ we must figure out, as leaders and as a society, ‘who we are,’ Oliva tweeted Monday.

The proposed ban on assault weapons is the most concrete idea that could potentially face voters in 2020 — if the state Supreme Court allows it. Even if it does, organizers would still need to gather hundreds of thousands more signatures to be eligible.

The proposed amendment is being led by Gail Schwartz, chairwoman of the group Ban Assault Weapons Now! Her nephew, Alex Schachter, was killed by a former classmate wielding an assault rifle in the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland.

Related: Dozens of locals gathered at Williams Park in St. Petersburg in solidarity with vigils across the nation

The amendment would ban the sale of “semiautomatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device.” It would not apply to handguns.

Current owners of assault rifles would have to register them with the state within a year, and selling them would be illegal.

On Monday, Moody accused the creators of the amendment of trying to mislead voters because the ban would include weapons that were not normally considered assault rifles.

“The way that they have phrased this language, it would ban virtually every firearm, including those that in no shape of the imagination would one think would be described as an assault weapon,” she said.

Various states have struggled to come up with a definition for an assault rifle, a term that is not defined by law.

Ben Pollara, a political consultant working with Ban Assault Weapons Now!, said the group consulted legal and gun safety experts for a definition that would cover weapons “that have been used to devastating effect in mass shootings like those that occurred in Parkland and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.”

He said the weapon owned by Moody’s grandfather could be considered illegal under the proposal.

“If someone wants to give their ‘9 or 10’ year old grandkid a semiautomatic rifle capable of taking a high-capacity magazine they will be out of luck,” Pollara said in a statement. “But unless grandpa needs to unload ten bullets into a deer when he’s out hunting, his 60 year old rifle is probably totally legal under this amendment.”

Eric Friday, the general counsel for the gun-rights group Florida Carry, noted that the ban could include many old sporting and hunting rifles that are decades old.

The reason, he said, is because those rifles accept magazines, and sometimes manufacturers make magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

Friday mentioned in particular old rifles such as the Ruger 10/22, which has been in production since the 1960s and is popular for target practice and hunting small game.

“The Ruger 10/22 is one of the most popular starter rifles for youth learning to shoot,” Friday said.

It typically comes with a 10-round magazine, which would make it legal, but 25-round magazines can be purchased online, making the weapon illegal under the amendment.

Moody also said she was worried that the proposed amendment wouldn’t allow her family to pass along the weapon to future generations.

When asked about Moody’s concern, Pollara didn’t deny it. He said people who legally own assault weapons at the time the new law would go into effect can keep their weapons — as long as they register with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement within a year.

“Our intent is not to take anyone’s guns away while also ensuring civilian possession of these military-style weapons doesn’t proliferate any further in this state,” he said in a statement.