Fla Supreme Court upholds state law penalizing local govts that place restrictions on guns

The Florida Supreme Court upheld a state law on Thursday that bans local governments from restricting gun and ammunition sales and affirms penalty provisions that call for a fine of up to $5,000 for any official who commits a “knowing and willful” violation of the statute.

The public and organizations would also be allowed to collect damages and attorney fees if they successfully sue local governments for improper gun regulations.

Florida passed a law in 1987 that prohibits cities and counties from creating restrictions on guns that exceed state law. Civil penalties and fines for local officials who violate the law were added in 2011, according to Fox News.

Thirty-three cities and counties and dozens of local officials contended that penalties in the 2011 law were unconstitutional. They challenged the law following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 that resulted in 17 being shot and killed. Former Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried joined multiple municipalities in suing the state over the law.

(Video Credit: FOX 13 Tampa Bay)

The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5 to 1 against those local governments and officials.

Justice Ricky Polston, in Thursday’s 25-page majority opinion, rejected the arguments of the entities suing, including that the law violated what is known as “governmental function immunity,” a legal doctrine that helps shield government bodies from liability, according to CBS News.

“The imposition of these civil statutory actions for violations of the (1987) preemption statute does not violate governmental function immunity,” Polston wrote. “It is not a core municipal function to occupy an area that the Legislature has preempted, and local governments have no lawful discretion or authority to enact ordinances that violate state preemption.”

Polston was joined in the opinion by Chief Justice Carlos Muniz and Justices Charles Canady, John Couriel, and Jamie Grosshans. Justice Jorge Labarga dissented, while Justice Renatha Francis did not participate in the ruling.

Labarga argued in his dissent that the 2011 law violated the separation of powers because it would empower judges to decide whether violations by local elected officials were “knowing and willful.”

“(The) requirement of judicial involvement in determining whether the action of the public official was ‘knowing and willful’ amounts to nothing less than an impermissible judicial intrusion into the official’s legislative thought process, and it undermines the official’s ability to effectuate the constituents’ will,” he asserted.

The majority upheld a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeals. The case involved three lawsuits that were consolidated in Leon County circuit court. The lawsuits were filed by cities and counties from numerous parts of the state, including Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami Beach.

“Naturally, we’re disappointed by the decision, because we believe it sets a dangerous precedent for hometown democracy in Florida,” said Edward Guedes, a lawyer representing the three counties and dozens of municipalities and local officials challenging the law, according to Reuters.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody claimed the ruling was a “big win.”

“Our attorneys fought hard to make sure local governments can’t trample on your 2nd Amendment rights,” she tweeted praising those who prevailed in upholding the law.

The ruling is seen as a victory for state Republican leaders and Second Amendment advocates including the National Rifle Association.

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