It’s become an all-too familiar pattern: Blue-leaning cities pass a plastic bag ban or soda tax only to be preempted by red-leaning state governments. Florida’s cities-vs.-state fight for gun control, however, is the same story with a twist, and it could hold valuable lessons for other municipalities hoping to challenge their state legislators.
In Florida, the preemption came first. The original law to limit local gun control ordinances passed in 1987; lawmakers (backed by the NRA) gave it sharper teeth in 2011. As it stands now, the state forbids cities and counties from enacting their own gun laws, and officials who craft or enforce local gun legislation face a $5,000 fine and removal from office.
But cities are stepping up to challenge that law. Officials in Coral Springs, Weston, Miami, Coral Gables and, most recently, Tallahassee, have begun crafting ordinances and, in some cases, threatening to sue the state.
Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee last week asked his colleague to consider a resolution directed toward state and federal bodies “expressing our call for common sense gun reform and express again the argument we attempted to make legally with our disagreement with Florida Statute 790.33,” the Tallahassee Democrat reports.
“We need to work with our sister cities, the League of Cities and anyone else that wants to join us to push legislation next legislative session to remove that preemption because that preemption has got to go,” Tallahassee Commissioner Gil Ziffer, who is also president of the Florida League of Cities, recently told the Tallahassee paper.
And while crafting a resolution may seem like a symbolic gesture at most (especially considering the fact that Gillum is hoping to win the state’s Democratic nomination for governor), there could be power in municipal numbers. The city of Weston plans to sue the state over its preemption law and has invited other cities to join the lawsuit, according to Governing. So far, the cities of Miami Beach, Pinecrest and Miramar have passed resolutions in favor of a lawsuit. And the courts have shown some sympathy for cities that have clashed with the preemption law in the past.
In 2017 … Gillum, defended the city in a lawsuit the state brought over two ordinances banning guns in public parks. Gillum argued that because the city was not enforcing the laws, they were not violating state law.
The court eventually agreed with Gillum but declined to rule on the state law’s constitutionality since no municipal officials in Tallahassee had actually been removed from office. The court hinted, however, that a city official’s removal would raise constitutional questions.
The city-pooling approach mirrors Texas municipalities’ strategy in passing paid sick leave. As Next City recently covered, Austin Mayor Steve Adler has suggested strength in numbers could be key to defending the city’s new policy against the brewing preemptive legislation.
Florida’s recent push for gun control follows the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 students and teachers. In its wake, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed legislation to impose new gun regulations (although not the assault weapons ban that advocates and students had pushed for). He was immediately sued by the NRA.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian