In a setback for anti-gun municipal governments in Florida, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that statutory penalties for violations of the state preemption law will stand.
“The Legislature’s express intent in enacting the Preemption Statute was to maintain uniform firearms laws throughout Florida; to nullify and void all ordinances and regulations not enacted at the state or federal level; ‘to prohibit the enactment of any future ordinances or regulations relating to firearms, ammunition, or components thereof unless specifically authorized by this section or general law’; and ‘to require local jurisdictions to enforce state firearms law’,” wrote Justice Ricky Polston for the majority.
Florida adopted state preemption in 1987, two years after Washington State reinforced its ground-breaking preemption statute, dating back to 1983 and amended in 1985. The laws are similar, in that they place sole authority for firearms regulation in the hands of the legislature.
According to an article in Reason by Eugene Volokh, Florida lawmakers in 2011 amended their statute “to include a series of civil penalties and actions, which apply to: Any person, county, agency, municipality, district, or other entity that violates the Legislature’s occupation of the whole field of regulation of firearms and ammunition…”
City officials in the Sunshine State have been unhappy about that ever since.
The 6-1 court ruling also rejects the arguments from the cities that the preemption law and its penalties violate the “separation of powers” constitutional provisions.
“[W]e find no merit in Petitioners’ argument that [the penalty provision] violates separation of powers principles,” Justice Polston wrote, “because it authorizes the judiciary’s interference with legislative acts of local officials. Petitioners have provided no basis in the Florida Constitution or precedent indicating that it would exceed the scope of judicial power for courts to interpret statutes and hear cases where parties seek to enforce statutory violations and penalties duly enacted by the Legislature. To the contrary, it is within the judiciary’s constitutional authority and responsibility to do so.”
Florida Carry, Inc., which submitted an amicus brief in the case, declared victory. In a prepared statement, Florida Carry noted, “If local officials tinker with gun laws in their jurisdiction, they can face removal from office and fines of up to $5,000, which the statute requires them to pay themselves, not with public funds.”
“Over the years, Florida Carry has filed numerous lawsuits for preemption statute violations by some of these same plaintiffs,” said Eric Friday, general counsel for Florida Carry, Inc. “These anti-freedom politicians couldn’t beat Florida Carry directly, so they tried to get rid of the penalties. They failed.”
Municipal governments dislike preemption laws because they prohibit local officials from establishing and enforcing their own gun restrictions. Such an effort is now underway in Washington State, where anti-gunners, including officials from Seattle and Kirkland, testified earlier this week supporting a bill to repeal Washington’s preemption statute.
Two years ago, Colorado’s legislature repealed that state’s preemption statute, and the result has been a number of communities have adopted local gun control ordinances.