Florida Court Upholds Law that Penalizes Local Gun Control Regulations

A Florida appeals court on Friday upheld a state law from 2011 that would impose penalties on local authorities if they enact or enforce local gun control regulations.

A three-judge panel of the Florida First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee granted an appeal from the state of Florida that sought to uphold the law. The appeal by Attorney General Ashley Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis was in response to a lower court ruling in 2019 that found the 2011 law unconstitutional.

“The trial court invalidated Florida’s statutory penalties against local governments, local officials, and agency heads for violating the Florida Legislature’s total preemption of firearm and ammunition regulation,” the ruling by Judge Susan Kelsey reads (pdf). “We find the challenged statutes valid and enforceable, and we reverse.”

Florida has had a statute since 1987, “Field of regulation of firearms and ammunition preempted,” that declares null and void any new gun control laws passed by local-level governments that would be stricter than state laws. It sought to ensure that lawful gun owners would not inadvertently break local rules while traveling within the state.

In 2011, Florida enacted a measure providing penalties against local governmental entities or individual officials who willfully violate the state preemption statute—effectively giving it more teeth. The penalty provisions include fines of up to $5,000 and removal of the local officials of concern from office by the governor.

The law also allows for the recovery of damages of up to $100,000, as well as court and attorney costs and fees, for the prevailing party if they successfully sue local governments over local gun laws.

The 2011 law was challenged in three separate lawsuits by 30 municipalities, three counties, and more than 70 local officials. They argued the penalties in the 2011 law were unconstitutional. The lawsuits came in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting in February 2018 that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Then-Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, in a ruling in July 2019 that consolidated the three legal actions, found the 2011 law unconstitutional on a series of grounds.

“Because local governments must have what amount to small legislatures, and because courts cannot interfere in legislative processes, neither this court, nor any other court in Florida, can enforce the civil penalty provisions [of the law] against local legislators,” Dodson wrote in his order.

He also focused on how the Constitution may define the concept of “legislative immunity” and “government function immunity” that would protect local officials from penalties for making decisions in their official capacity.

His ruling did not affect the 1987 statute, which was not challenged.

Kelsey, writing for the appellate panel, rejected the lower court ruling.

“We hold that the statutory penalty provisions disputed on appeal are valid and enforceable. Government function immunity does not shield entities that act contrary to or more restrictively than state law in the completely preempted field of firearm and ammunition regulation. Likewise, legislative immunity does not shield individuals who knowingly and willfully act contrary to or beyond the limits of state law,” she wrote.

She also wrote that the Florida Legislature is “authorized to enact general laws preempting all regulation in an area of the law.”

“As this case illustrates, the Legislature has exercised its preemption authority with respect to firearms and ammunition,” she added.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) celebrated the ruling, writing on Twitter, “MAJOR NRA COURT WIN: Florida appellate court upholds preemption statute and says that public officials can be fined for overriding state law and implementing local gun control,” adding, “The NRA was instrumental in passing this statute and filed an amicus brief in the case.”

Amicus briefs were also filed to the appeals court in support of local entities in the case. One brief (pdf) was filed by the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties, and another (pdf) was filed by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Brady gun-control group, and the League of Women Voters of Florida and Equality Florida Institute, Inc.

From The Epoch Times