Adopting a constitutional amendment to ban “assault weapons” as proposed in a prospective 2020 ballot measure could annually cost Florida’s economy $26.9 million, including $12.25 million in reduced sales and corporate income taxes, and another $3 million a year to maintain a registry of “grandfathered” semi-automatics.
Those are projections from the Financial Impact Estimating Conference (FIEC), a panel of state economists tasked with gauging the financial impacts of proposed constitutional amendments, following hearings in Tallahassee, including on Tuesday and Thursday.
The FIEC calculated estimated losses in sales taxes from reduced “assault weapon,” ammunition, and accessory purchases, as well as corresponding declines in gross domestic production, jobs – 1,600 in 2021 – and related impacts on government contracts and tourism Thursday in presenting its financial impact statement on the proposed constitutional amendment.
On Tuesday, the panel projected it would cost the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) $4 million to establish a registry of “assault weapons” owned before the ban goes into effect and $3 million a year to maintain it.
The prospective ballot proposal, backed by the political committee Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN), would prohibit possession of “assault weapons” but includes a grandfather clause that would allow those who own them before it goes into effect to keep them – but to register them with the FDLE within a year of the measure’s adoption.
To get the measure on the 2020 ballot, Miami-based BAWN needs to present 766,200 verified voter signatures to the state’s Division of Elections by Feb. 1, 2020. As of Thursday, it had submitted 105,110.
The vagaries in defining “assault weapon” in the ballot language could outlaw a wide range of semi-automatics, critics say, which is among reasons why Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has asked the state Supreme Court to block the ballot initiative.
“It’s deceitful and misleading,” Moody said about the language. “This particular amendment would mislead voters into thinking they were banning a specific type of firearm when, in fact, they were banning virtually every long gun including those that have been passed down from generation to generation in Florida.”
Moody also argued the ballot language "requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed" but doesn't clearly inform voters that owners of “assault weapons” would have to register their personal weapons with the FDLE – anathema for many gun owners and constitutional scholars certain to be challenged in court.
“If the amendment goes on the ballot and is passed, people will be required to either turn in those firearms or register them with the FDLE – so they can make you turn them in later,” NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer said Thursday in an NRA Alert. “The only reason for government to register your guns is to take your guns.”
FDLE Director of External Affairs Ron Draa told the panel Tuesday the $4 million estimate to establish the registry and $3 million annually to maintain it was tentative at best because the agency does not know, exactly, what types and how many types of “assault weapons” would be affected by the ban.
“When you are talking about a gun registry,” he said, “you are talking about potentially millions of guns.”
The ballot measure requires the FDLE to build the registry within 30 days of adoption, which he said would be “impossible” to do.
“Depending on what the Legislature determines a registration system would look like, it could take up to a year and a half,” Draa said.
During Thursday’s presentation, Office of Economic and Demographic Research Coordinator Amy Baker said the estimated $58 million in reduced sales tax and other revenues the state would incur by 2025 will likely be trimmed by those dollars being used to make other taxable purchases.
“More than half of the direct sales-tax loss would be offset by redirected spending,” she said, adding the projected loss in revenues would have a “minimal” impact on the state’s roughly $90 billion budget.
“Assault weapon” ban proponents said the measure would save taxpayers money in reducing medical costs, police responses and demands for mental health services generated by mass shootings.
They cited Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation health economist Ted Miller’s study on the costs of firearms injuries for more than two decades, noting in 2016 he estimated in a PBS interview that the cost of the Orlando’s Pulse nightclub mass murder was about $385 million when victims’ medical care, police response and “the dollar value of the lives lost” was factored in.
Baker said Miller’s PBS comments were conjecture and that FIEC reviewed his study, but could not extract “Florida-specific” data from it.
She said the economic impact of the proposed “assault weapons” ban on law enforcement, corrections and courts was “indeterminate.”
While court cases related to the use of “assault weapons” would likely decline, the measure also would create a third-degree felony charge for people who violate the ban.
“We don’t know how that would net against each other,” Baker said. “We don’t even have a direction on that one.”