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Assault Weapons Definition In Crosshairs As Economists Evaluate Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Handgun with rifle
Mariusz Blach
Adobe Stock

Earlier this month the state’s financial impact estimating group struggled to define certain portions of a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban assault weapons. Friday the group met again, and this time they invited the petition sponsor to help clarify portions of the proposal.  

Thanks to House Bill 5 passed by the legislature last session, financial estimators now have to prepare financial impact statements for any proposed constitutional amendment by citizens’ initiative.

They've struggled to define the intent of the amendment. 

State Economist Amy Baker(center) listening to testimony on assault weapons.
Credit Blaise Gainey / WFSU-FM

“Our hope by the end of the day is to have a good working understanding of what the amendment does so that we can start talking about, and preparing discreet impacts,” said Baker, who called a second meeting to consider the proposal.

During the Friday hearing Charles Tate, a volunteer for the petition’s sponsor, described exactly what the amendment’s intentions are.

“I am a former member of the National rifle Association. Additionally, I have been in possession of a concealed weapons permit since they were made available to qualified citizens of this state,” he said.

Tate says even with his love for guns he wouldn’t mind turning his assault rifle in to help solve what he calls a health care problem.

“I believe it to be the number one preventable cause of death and injury in our state, and frankly in our nation."

In 2017, nearly 40,000 people were killed from firearm related injuries nationwide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But not every firearm is an assault weapon. And, Tate says the amendment is only trying to outlaw specific guns that could fit that description.

“All semi-automatic rifles and shotguns that are capable of accepting a detachable or other ammunition feeding device. All semi-automatic rifles or shotguns equipped with a fixed magazine with a capacity over ten rounds,” explained Tate.

But former NRA President Marion Hammer argues the way the amendment is worded world lead to a ban on  every semi-automatic gun, simply because of the word "capable".

Credit Blaise Gainey / WFSU-FM
Former National Rifle Association President Marion Hammer.

“That one word capable with respect to fixed or detached magazines assures that all semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic shotguns will be banned if this amendment goes onto the ballot and is passed,” said Hammer.

Tate disagrees and thinks capable means something that allows a gun to be easily altered. He acknowledges that gunsmiths can alter guns after they leave the manufacturer, but he says the amendment is focused on what the gun was designed to do.

In the meantime, the estimating group is going to determine what definition they will use. Their next meeting is Sept. 9.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.