By: José Niño
The Florida Supreme Court is set to review a challenge to a 2011 gun law that preempts local efforts to impose gun control.
Due to the partisan makeup of Florida state politics, where Democrats have been in large part shut out from power, anti-gun forces in the Democratic party have had to rely on the courts to undermine Florida’s pro-gun protections.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat holding a statewide office and a Democrat candidate currently running to challenge incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, used her position to push the Florida Supreme Court to get itself involved in a legal dispute with the preemption policy. The law was passed by Gov. Rick Scott and has largely remained in place under DeSantis’ watch.
Since 1987, gun regulations have been the exclusive domain of the state government, and local governments are not authorized to pass gun laws that are more restrictive than laws passed by the Florida State Legislature. The Florida State Legislature approved a law in 2011 that tacked a fine up to $100,000 for local governments and up to $5,000 for local elected officials who violated the state’s preemption law.
This penalty provision of Florida’s preemption law was at the center of the legal challenge that several local governments put forward. The gun control hysteria that followed the Parkland Massacre of 2018, where 17 people were slaughtered, motivated numerous municipalities to take legal action. In 2019, a trial court took the side of local governments and got rid of the penalty provisions; however, a Florida Court of Appeals upheld the preemption law’s penalty language by overturning the trial court’s decision.
These two contradictory rulings prompted Fried to request the Florida Supreme Court in July to consider the case. According to Matt Dixon at Politico, on September 9, 2021, “Justices Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, Alan Lawson, and John Couriel concurring with the decision, while Chief Justice Charles Canady, along with Justices Carlos Muñiz and Jamie Grosshans dissented.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision to hear our appeals to uphold the constitutionality of the penalty provisions in the preemption of firearm regulation statute is a win for home rule and local control,” Fried declared in a statement. “Once again, Florida Republicans are attempting to punish local governments for taking actions that are completely within their jurisdiction to protect their communities.”
Florida Republicans passed stronger legislation that expanded the scope of Florida’s current preemption law. According to this bill, local governments can find themselves in violation of the preemption law even if the local policy is “unwritten.” Plus, the local governments could still face penalties under the law if they change their gun regulations after the filing of a lawsuit.
Gunpowder Magazine talked to the the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) for comments about Fried’s efforts to use the courts to gut Florida’s gun control laws.
Dudley Brown, NAGR President, said:
“Power-hungry Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried has leveraged her office to get the Florida Supreme Court to consider overturning State control of gun laws. Her goal is to undermine gun freedoms one town at a time making the average gun owner have to fear breaking some arbitrary gun law wherever they go.
“If the Florida Supreme Court overturns State control of gun laws, then they might as well shutdown the State Capitol and let every neighborhood and town make up all their own laws."
Florida is a middling state in terms of pro-gun policies. It’s currently ranked in 25th place at Guns & Ammo magazine’s Best States for Gun Owners rankings. It did reach a low point in 2018, after Gov. Scott signed various gun control laws into law, such as red flag gun confiscation orders, raising the age to buy a firearm to 21, and the establishment of a three-day waiting period for all firearms transactions.
To his credit, Gov. Ron DeSantis has not expanded on Scott’s gun control. But the Florida State government could do more to liberalize its gun laws by embracing Constitutional Carry and protecting the Second Amendment from potential judicial activism — be it from the State Supreme Court or the US Supreme Court.
José Niño is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Sign up for his mailing list here. Contact him via Facebook, Twitter, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get his e-book, The 10 Myths of Gun Control, here.