Appeals court hears arguments in Florida gun-law lawsuit

By Troy Kinsey, Florida Capitol Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 10, 2017, 8:49 PM EST

An appeals court on Tuesday heard oral arguments over the constitutionality of a 2011 state law that allows local elected officials to be fined and removed from office for implementing gun control ordinances that clash with less restrictive state statutes.

  • Lawsuit questions constitutionality of 2011 Florida law
  • Florida Carry brought lawsuit after actions of 4 Tallahassee officials
  • Law says officials can be removed for pre-empting state gun statutes

The law leaves it to the Florida state legislature to pass uniform gun laws that "pre-empt" the local ordinances. The case heard Tuesday, originally brought by Florida Carry, a gun-rights group, concerns the actions of four Tallahassee city leaders who moved to table a vote on repealing an ordinance that bans the discharge of firearms in public parks.

"The legislature makes the laws of the state," said Eric Friday, an attorney for Florida Carry. "Look, it's no different than if the city wanted to go make a rule that they're going to paint pink lines instead of yellow lines in the middle of the roadways. We have a uniform traffic code. Just like we have uniform firearms laws, we have a uniform traffic code, and the city doesn't just get to do whatever they want."

Friday told reporters that home rule — the authority of local governments to independently pass regulations pertaining to their communities — doesn't exist in Florida, a claim Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum called preposterous.

"What we've tried to do is help people relate to the fact that these kinds of pre-emption laws take power away from local citizens, that when the state overreaches and takes away our ability to make decisions that we believe are in the best interests of the people who elect us, that that's bad for democracy and that's bad for local home rule," said Gillum, who as a city commissioner in 2014 voted to table the vote on repealing the gun ordinance.

The First District Court of Appeal's pending decision will have a broad impact: A dozen other Florida cities and governmental advocacy groups have joined in support of the Tallahassee officials. Under the 2011 law, local officials complicit in passing or implementing ordinances that don't conform to the state's uniform gun laws can be fined up to $5,000 and be subject to removal from office by the governor.