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10 Florida Cities Challenge State Law Barring Local Governments From Passing Gun Ordinances

| April 3, 2018

gun law preemption florida

The backyardigangs. (Fibonacci Blue)

Elected officials from 10 South Florida cities are challenging an NRA-backed state law that imposes strict penalties on local lawmakers — including removal from office and hefty fines — for enacting gun ordinances.


The cities — Weston, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Lauderhill, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens, Miramar, Pinecrest, Pompano Beach and South Miami — are asking a judge to toss out a 2011 law that imposes a $5,000 fine on local government officials who create gun rules that exceed statewide restrictions. Under the law, the officials could also be ousted from office for the gun ordinances.

Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer invited invites “every municipal and county official” to join the challenge, filed in Leon County circuit court Monday.

“This lawsuit impacts each and every one of us that holds office,” Stermer said. “The onerous penalties that exist in this statute … exit nowhere else in Florida statutes.”

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and other statewide officials, including Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, are among the defendants named in the lawsuit, headed by the city of Weston.

Scott’s office is reviewing the lawsuit, a spokesman for the governor said. Bondi’s office said she had “not yet been served” in the case.

The lawsuit contends the 2011 law in part violates constitutional limitations on gubernatorial authority with respect to municipal officers, conflicts with the right of elected officials to legislative immunity, and are “overbroad, in violation of local officials’ free speech rights.”

“These onerous penalties are vindictive and expressly intended to be punitive in nature,” lawyer Jamie Cole of the Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman law firm and other attorneys representing the cities wrote in the 45-page complaint.

The municipalities have suspended or refrained from enacting “reasonable firearms measures” to reflect the views of their constituents “which may be appropriate for the specific circumstances of that municipality (as opposed to the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the State),” the lawyers argued.

According to the lawsuit, gun-rights groups threatened to sue Coral Gables and also urged Scott to remove individuals from office “if the city so much as passed the proposed gun-related measures on first reading.”

Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s Florida lobbyist and a former president of the national organization, said elected public officials must follow the law regardless of “how important they think they are.”

“When they willfully and knowingly violate state law they have to be held accountable,” Hammer told The News Service of Florida in an email Monday. “They remind me of disobedient children who whine about being punished for doing something they knew was wrong and were warned about the consequences. I personally don’t think the penalties are severe enough.”

Like other elected officials throughout the country, the cities said they have been under pressure from students and adults to “take some action regarding firearms and ammunition to increase public safety” following the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 14 students and three faculty members dead.

“Those 17 lives that were lost in Parkland would agree with us that we should do everything possible to keep our communities safe,” Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam said Monday during a press conference at Weston City Hall. “We’re not standing here to say we will pass laws that are unconstitutional, but to have the ability to pass constitutional regulation on arms that could potentially damage, hurt or even take the live of anyone in the public, should be possible. And right now today, it is not possible.”

The lawsuit alleges the 2011 law was created to “deter and chill local officials from even considering reasonable, constitutional firearms regulations in their own communities.”

The plaintiffs “have considered a panoply of possible measures, including, but not limited to, the restricting of guns in municipal-owned facilities and parks, the placing of signs relating to guns in municipal-owned facilities and parks, the regulation of gun accessories (such as holsters or high capacity magazines), or the creation of ‘gun free zones’ or ‘gun safe zones,’ ” but are afraid of running afoul of the law, their lawyers argued.

Meanwhile, Skip Campbell, the mayor of Coral Springs and a former state senator, has spearheaded a campaign to put on the 2020 ballot a constitutional amendment that would ban assault weapons.

The lawsuit filed Monday comes as critics continue to blame the Legislature for not going far enough with a school-safety law, signed by Scott on March 9, that raises the age from 18 to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles and other long guns, similar to requirements in place for buying handguns.

The new law also bans the sale or possession of “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons. And it gives law enforcement officials the ability to seek court orders to seize weapons from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

The same day Scott signed the bill, the NRA filed a federal lawsuit alleging the new restrictions on rifles purchases are unconstitutional.

The school-safety law also includes a controversial provision giving school boards and sheriffs the power to allow certain teachers and other school personnel, who receive special training and are deputized by sheriffs, to bring guns to schools.

“Funny, the Legislature saw fit in passing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act to allow local school boards and sheriffs to decide what happens locally in schools,” Stermer said. “So for some reason it’s good for that, but not for the rest of us.”

The cities’ lawsuit doesn’t dispute the state has the ability to preempt certain subject matters, such as honeybee colonies and the use of electronic devices in cars.

However, penalties are only outlined in the case of firearms, the lawyers argued.

“In every other circumstance, the only consequence of a determination that local action violates express preemption would be a finding that such local action is null and void,” the lawsuit states.

This is not the first time the law has been challenged.

In 2014, a Leon County Circuit Judge ruled in favor of Palm Beach County that “the Legislature may not grant the governor the power to remove a county commissioner when that power is not provided by the Constitution.” The county had challenged the law in 2012.

The ruling, however, maintained that the state could filed legal challenges to any local government official who seeks to enact local gun restrictions tougher than state law.

The issue has “been bothering municipalities” since the law was enacted in 2011, Cole told The News Service of Florida Monday.

“But it’s certainly become of much greater importance because of the Parkland tragedy,” he said.

Cole said he expects other South Florida cities to sign onto the lawsuit.

“This is a clear infringement on the home rule powers and legislative immunity of elected officials,” he said of the 2011 law. “If the Legislature is going to do this thing for firearms, they theoretically could do it for any other preemption, which would be a very bad situation.”

–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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19 Responses for “10 Florida Cities Challenge State Law Barring Local Governments From Passing Gun Ordinances”

  1. Duncan says:

    Welcome to the United States of the NRA. :-(

  2. mark101 says:

    I guess these cities think that we are going to be invaded by some country and we need protection or some outer space power is going to take over our Fla cities. :)
    What I see are NRA goons forcing their will on others with hate speech, unsupported propaganda and using their pocket books to buy politicians.

  3. Peaches McGee says:

    Should these cities be able to ban guns as they wish, the criminals will make a beeline directly towards them.

    A Guns Free Zone is an open invitation for any criminal.

  4. Dave says:

    Individual cities should have every right to create their own laws whether its guns or anything else. In fact their are many laws that change from city to city so why not laws referring to guns? It makes sense that a city like Miami would have different gun laws than a city like say Palatka. Common sense here

  5. anon says:

    NRA controls so many – whether by brainwashing them into believing that living without a gun (choice) is inviting criminals to invade, or that gun control means taking away ALL guns instead of deadly assault military style weapons, or by paying them off or threatening them with removal from elected office if they dare to represent the people instead of them.
    What is wrong with you people? Don’t let this shady organization (which USED to be a legitimate one) tell you what to do or not do!
    Wake up and fight them before it’s too late. This spreading of hatred on a constant basis is why we are suffering under Hitler II – I mean Trump.

  6. Peaches McGee says:

    Maybe Miami should adopt the same laws as Chicago.

    Everyone knows how well gun control works in Chicago (not).

  7. Layla says:

    Amazing to me that everyone is blaming this on the NRA when the NRA had nothing to do with it. We have a Sheriff with badly trained deputies who didn’t perform their duties, and an FBI which knew about this man for months and did nothing. I call that a complete failure of government. Blame it on whomever you wish, but Americans know who is at fault here. And nothing has changed in that regard. Not a damned thing.

  8. Richard says:

    When I was a resident of NYS with a C&C permit, that permit was not valid in NYC. So yes cities within a state have every right to establish their own gun laws. However, I am not accustomed to hanging out in cities like Chicago or any other place where they have the strictest gun laws in the country but yet the highest gun deaths. Sure makes common sense, doesn’t it?

  9. Dave says:

    Hey peaches ,how many guns in Chicago are bought legally in neighboring states with lenient gun laws ? The more cities and states that get with the program we can all be much safer. Close the gun law loops holes!

  10. Chris A Pickett says:

    We should have gun control like Chicago, or San Francisco, or France I mean we see the results working there like a…..well a war zone to be honest. I guess the criminals didn’t get the memo that guns were illegal there, so they didn’t turn theirs in……..

  11. Stranger in a strange land says:

    @Peaches Mcgee: If gun free zones are “a magnet” why aren’t criminals with guns running rampant in Japan? Or Poland, or Ireland, or Britain?Those whole countries are gun free zones. Certainly, under NRA theory, criminals will always be able to get their hands on guns. So why aren’t criminals with guns running rampant in those countries? Because the theory is wrong. Those countries have very low gun related crime. As far as Chicago, high gun death and injury numbers are mostly the result of gang vs. gang violence.

  12. Stranger in a strange land says:

    @ Chris A Pickett: FYI, France has about 1/5 guns per person vs. US. France has about 1/3 Firearm Deaths per person. It is impossible to find an example of a country with sensible gun laws and a low rate of gun ownership that supports the “then only bad guys have guns” argument. A low rate of gun ownership correlates to a low rate of gun deaths.

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-u-s-gun-deaths-compare-to-other-countries/

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/26/opinions/france-america-gun-laws-opinion-andelman/index.html

  13. Sherry says:

    Not to confuse the NRA and FOX brainwashed folks with actual facts. . . Australia has essentially ELIMINATED mass shootings since their gun buy back and destruction of over 500,000 guns:

    Australia responded to a mass shooting of its own in 1996, when a lone gunman killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

    The government of John Howard instituted a ban on, and a mass, compulsory buy-back of, certain kinds of guns, destroying nearly 660,000 rapid-fire weapons over two years amid other measures.

    Since then Australia has not suffered another mass shooting, defined by academics as the killing of five or more people, not including the perpetrator.

    Last year a Reuters analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed that in 1996, Australia had had 311 murders, of which 98 involved guns. In 2014, when the population had increased from about 18 million to 23 million, 238 people were murdered, 35 by guns.

    In other words, the likelihood of being murdered by gunshot fell by 72 per cent in that period, from 0.54 to 0.15 per 100,000 people

  14. Whatever says:

    Sherry, read OUR constitution not the laws of other countries .

  15. RayD says:

    I’m not surprised. God forbid the Red Dawn comes or Rick Grimes runs out of bullets.

  16. Really... says:

    What fool thinks creating more gun laws will prevent these incidents from occurring? A criminal by nature violates laws. More of them will not change the criminals behavior. More restrictive gun laws only affect law abiding citizens.

  17. Dave says:

    What fool doesn’t realize that every single gun used in a mass shooting was purchased legally. Also how do people not realize it’s not criminals committing these acts ,but law abiding citizens who just snap. Ex military, young students,rich white men, never has a criminal gang member went and committed a mass shooting. Its not the criminals we are trying to stop but the law abiding citizens who unpredictably buy a legal gun and shoot up people

  18. Trailer Bob says:

    First of all, the NRA is sort of a club for us legal gun owners. What I read about the NRA is ridiculous. Do some of you ever read the NRA materials, or just follow with the BS of others? No one wants to deal with mental illness and the laws don’t allow for ;us touching anyone who is deemed insane, but you blame the NRA? The NRA is a sort of club for us gun owners, get it? There are millions…millions of guns owned by people like myself and only a small fraction of guns are used to kill good people. Get over your hysterics and go mow your lawn…or help out someone today who needs a hand.

  19. Dave says:

    Its wild how some people don’t have a clue as to what their little “club” (NRA) actually stands for or stands in the way of, until the NRA members can stand up to the NRA and say enough is enough,they will remain a negative influence on our society

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