Florida Cities Sue State Over Gun Preemption

Mayors want to keep guns out of libraries, city halls and sports stadiums, but state law says no. 

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum defended his city against a state lawsuit over guns in public parks in 2017. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

Florida’s gun laws are state preemption on steroids. Not only do they forbid cities and counties from passing firearms legislation — they also allow municipalities that do try to regulate where guns can be sold or carried (like, not in the public library) to be hit with up to $100,000 in fines and legal fees. And city or county officials who do try to pass such laws can be removed from office by the governor, personally sued and fined $5,000.

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, cities began pushing back against the state mandate, which passed in 1987 but was given sharper teeth (with support from the NRA) in 2011. Now, 11 municipalities have announced a joint lawsuit against Tallahassee lawmakers, alleging that the preemption ban is unconstitutional, Orlando Weekly reports.

The original plaintiff cities included Weston, Miramar, Pompano Beach, Lauderhill, Miami Gardens, South Miami, Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Miami Beach and Coral Gables. This week, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced his intention to join in, according to the paper. Their lawsuit alleges that penalties against local gun regulation infringe on free speech and conflict with the governor’s limited power to remove local officials from office.

“The punitive preemption law is an unconstitutional and unlawful effort to silence and oppressively punish local elected officials and the municipalities they represent, and it stands in the way of specific legislative steps that Plaintiffs seek to take to protect their cities from gun violence by prohibiting the sale or transfer of most large capacity magazines,” a complaint filed Tuesday states.

The cities’ proposed “legislative steps” vary, according to the Miami Herald. Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach wants to keep guns out of City Hall. Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar wants the city’s new amphitheater to be a gun-free venue. Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli of Coral Gables wants to ban the sale of military-style rifles within city limits.

But state law — especially after those 2011 tweaks — undid even local laws around gun-use that had already passed. Measures banning guns in libraries and parks were overturned, according to Time. Local laws banning gunfire in dense urban areas, along with celebratory shots, also had to be scrapped.

As Next City has covered, Florida courts have shown some sympathy for cities that have clashed with the preemption law. Last year, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum successfully defended his city in a lawsuit brought by the state over ordinances banning guns in public parks (although Gillum’s get-out-of-jail argument was that the city was not actually enforcing those ordinances). At the time, the court hinted that the state provision about city officials being removed from office did, in fact, raise some constitutional questions.

Zooming out across the country, Ben Beachy and Miya Saika Chen of the Partnership for Working Families point out today in a Next City op-ed that state preemption follows a pattern of mostly white, male legislatures ignoring or overriding concerns of the women and people of color who are more likely to suffer harm because of states preempting local laws and regulations, such as those that would strengthen gun control.

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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

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Tags: public safetyfloridagun violence

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