Would Florida proposal ban virtually all guns? Here’s what we know

Harvey Kornnfield, owner of Airport Pawn, left, works on a sale with Bamula Schlesinger, right, at a gun show hosted by Florida Gun Shows, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Miami. Schlesinger purchased an Uzi and a Smith & Wesson 38. (AP)
Harvey Kornnfield, owner of Airport Pawn, left, works on a sale with Bamula Schlesinger, right, at a gun show hosted by Florida Gun Shows, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Miami. Schlesinger purchased an Uzi and a Smith & Wesson 38. (AP)
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody listen to the proceedings during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet Tuesday June 4, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP)
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody listen to the proceedings during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet Tuesday June 4, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP)

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody criticized a proposed amendment to ban assault weapons as "vague" and "misleading." But after seeing her comments, advocates of the ban said it was actually Moody who exaggerated its scope. 

"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," Moody said in defense of her challenge with the Florida Supreme Court

She also said that the amendment would go beyond the type of weapons used in the recent mass shootings and include long guns passed down from generation to generation.

"We are not just talking about these types of weapons that we saw this weekend, we are talking about virtually every self-loading long gun," she told reporters Aug. 5. (She made the same argument in her court petition.)

Advocates for the amendment said Moody misrepresented the goal, which is to ban the type of AR-15 or AK-47 rifles used in mass shootings that allow a shooter to quickly kill multiple people. But the proposed amendment does not specify those weapons, so it could apply to a wide range of popular guns, including semiautomatic shotguns.

PolitiFact Florida wanted to assess Moody’s warning for voters. Fact-checking what a proposed amendment would or would not do is not easy — especially since the courts could decide whether the question is eligible for the 2020 ballot. (Due to the uncertainty, we will not issue a Truth-O-Meter ruling.)

We consulted seven firearms experts for this story, some of whom were critical of the idea of such a ban and some of whom were not. Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist, said Moody should have been more specific. 

"Moody's statement was an overstatement, but with a big element of truth," he said. 

Where Moody exaggerated

One thing we can say for sure: The proposed amendment would not ban "virtually" every gun. 

Moody’s remark focused on how it would affect long guns. But it’s clear that not all long guns would be affected, either.

The amendment would ban semi-automatic guns "capable of" holding more than 10 rounds. Semi-automatic guns are designed to fire one bullet with one trigger squeeze, then automatically reload the chamber with a cartridge from a magazine and be ready to fire again.

The El Paso shooter used an AK-47 style rifle. In Dayton, the gun was a AM-15 pistol, which resembles a rifle but qualifies as a pistol because of its short barrel. It was used with an attached 100-round capacity drum magazine.

The proposed Florida amendment would ban a lot of guns, said Peter Diaczuk, an expert on firearms at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But some long guns would not be banned if they require the user to take additional steps to fire each cartridge (unlike a semi-automatic). Those include bolt action, lever action or pump guns. 

Bolt-action and lever action guns are commonly used by hunters and in competitions. Pump guns, as well as double barrel shotguns, are commonly used by hunters and sports shooters firing at flying clay targets. (Some hunters use semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, too.)

Where Moody might have a point

Experts told us the ban would include some firearms that may not conjure the image of an assault weapon. The Marlin Model 60, for example, is a .22 caliber rifle that is used to shoot squirrels and small game and holds up to 14 long-rifle rounds. (That’s more than the threshold that would be okay under the ban.)

Even small .22 caliber rifles can kill people. A man used one at the Cascade Mall in Washington state in 2016, killing five people. 

In Diaczuk’s view, the ban could affect some other firearms that he does not consider assault weapons. He mentioned the Ruger 10/22, a popular .22 caliber rimfire rifle used by novice shooters and for recreational firing at targets.

The 10/22 is a semi-automatic rifle that comes with a 10 round capacity magazine from the manufacturer, but customers can buy a magazine that is a higher capacity.

"I’ve trained more people how to shoot and maintain firearm safety protocols with this model rifle than any other," Diaczuk said.

Steve Howard, a gun and ammunition expert, agreed with Moody that the amendment would create a broad ban. As written, it has no provision for a legal owner to pass down a gun to a family member.

"Virtually all the .22 semi-automatics have magazines above 10 rounds or magazines that can be added to them," Howard said. 

What remains unclear

Moody’s concern rests with a key phrase in the amendment — that it bans semi-automatic guns "capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition feeding device."

The key here is how the Florida Supreme Court will interpret the word "capable."

Amendment backers say that the language says "capable of" — not "may be capable of" or "capable in the future." Backers say it only applies if someone adds that device to make it then capable of firing 10 rounds, not if it could theoretically be added.

"The fact that a gun could be re-engineered to accept a loading device that holds more than 10 rounds doesn’t mean that such guns would be banned," said Mike Weisser, a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association who consulted for free with the amendment backers..

Moody came up with a list of about 40 guns she said would be banned, including many equipped with extension tubes. Weisser, a former gun dealer and firearms trainer, told the Tampa Bay Times it’s not practical to equip some of those guns with extension tubes. 

"You would have a loading tube that extends a foot-and-a-half in front of the barrel," he said. "Nobody would ever walk around with a shotgun like that." 

Thomas Mauriello, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Maryland and former federal agent and police officer, said the amendment would "absolutely not" virtually ban all guns. He said it’s important to distinguish between the gun and a device on a gun that holds the ammunition.

"It’s not going to make a shotgun illegal," he said. "It would only make the gun illegal if you put a magazine in there that holds 10 rounds."

But if you read "capable of" to mean any gun that can be equipped to fire 10 rounds in the future, it would apply to a broader swath.

"Nearly all semi-automatic rifles and pistols are capable of accepting detachable magazines, which in turn might be able to hold more than 10 rounds, even if a given gun doesn't happen to have such a magazine in it at a given time," said Kleck of FSU.

Kleck said that most of the guns sold in the U.S. in the last 20 years are semi-automatic, so this measure would not just apply to a small subset of guns. 

It’s difficult to quantify how many of the guns owned by Floridians now would end up banned, because there is no such registry for the state. By law, under a measure signed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, one is not allowed. 

That could pose another hurdle for the amendment’s supporters: The language says Floridians who already own guns that would be banned would have one year to register them with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Correction: We corrected a paraphrase of Diaczuk's comments to show that he does not consider the Ruger 10/22 to be an assault weapon.