Florida Appeals Court Unsure On Local Gun Control

The forcing of penalties on city and county officials who approve gun control regulations that go beyond state firearms laws came under criticism yesterday, while a Florida appeals court deliberates a lower court’s decision on lawsuits filed after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Florida Appeals Court

County and City officials filed lawsuits to challenge a 2011 state law that threatens the penalties validity. Many of the officials present said the law had a “chilling effect” on their capability to create ordinances geared toward reducing violence with guns.

Last July, County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled that local officials should not be punished for enacting such measures. Lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to overturn his decision.

During Tuesday’s argument, Edward Guedes, the lawyer who represents the elected officials, told the three-judge panel that the original ruling should be upheld, due to local governments being entitled to “absolute legislative immunity”.

“Let’s go back to my hypothetical, where the local government knowingly passes an ordinance in violation of state law, imposes 60-day potential jail time on a citizen, a citizen is arrested and put in jail under a county ordinance that was clearly preempted,” Judge Brad Thomas said.

Since 1987, Florida has had what is known as a “preemption” law, which stops the local government from passing gun regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws. Lawmakers passed another measure in 2011 that included imposing penalties up to $5,000 and potential for permanent removal. 

It also allowed groups that successfully challenge local governments over gun regulations to receive up to $100,000 in damages. 

Deputy Solicitor General James Percival told the panel on Tuesday that the Legislature approved the law to deter local officials from enacting tough gun ordinances. “If you think about what the Legislature was really trying to do here, what they were really trying to do is they are saying, ‘We don’t want to force individual citizens to have to go to court every time a local government passes something that is close to the margins. We want to shift the burden to local governments,’” he said.

The case represents a “threshold” for officials’ rights. The Florida Constitution does give local officials immunity to protect the process. “Upholding the law would mean that those legislative bodies have no power at the whim of the Florida Legislature on whatever subject the Legislature chooses,” Guides argued.

“Isn’t that exactly what the Constitution says, you do operate at the whim of the state legislature?” said Judge Thomas. “You call it the whim, but it’s actually a decision by 160 elected members (of the Legislature). We are talking about the fundamental right of self-defense. Maybe the Legislature takes that very seriously,” the judge said.

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