Appeal weighed in local gun regulations case

(File photo)

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office Monday mulled appealing a judge’s ruling that struck down a state law that threatened tough penalties for locally approved gun regulations.

Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for Moody, said no decision had been made on appealing the ruling, which was issued late Friday by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson. She said the office is “currently evaluating next steps in this case.”

Siding with cities and counties, Dodson struck down a 2011 law that threatened stiff penalties against local governments and local officials if they approve gun regulations that go beyond state firearms laws.

The case has included about 30 municipalities, mostly in South Florida but also including Orlando, Gainesville and Tallahassee, and Miami-Dade, Broward and Leon counties. Some local officials said Monday they would urge Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis to not appeal the case to the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

“We’re convinced --- and we’ll go fight in the DCA --- that they don’t want a decision in the DCA that will be bad for them,” Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer said during a news conference in his city commission chambers. “This is good for the cities, this is good for the people who live in our cities, and it provides local control back to us without fear of being sued, of being removed.”

The governor’s office did not reply Monday to a request for comment on the ruling.

Florida since 1987 has had what is known as a “preemption” law that prevents local governments from passing gun regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws. In 2011, lawmakers passed another measure that included a series of steps designed to prevent local governments and officials from violating the 1987 law, including imposing penalties of up to $5,000 against officials and potential removal from office.

The law also allowed individuals and groups that successfully challenged local governments over gun regulations to receive damages up to $100,000 and attorney fees.

Dodson found that the 2011 law was unconstitutional, but he did not strike down the underlying 1987 law.

“In accordance with the legal doctrine of preemption, the Legislature may prohibit local regulation of firearms and accessories,” Dodson wrote.

State Rep. Dan Daley, a Coral Springs Democrat who helped challenge the 2011 law while serving as a city official, said it created a “chilling effect.”

“These folks want to keep their communities safe,” Daley said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich, a former state lawmaker who opposed the law while serving as Senate Democratic leader, said the ruling will allow local governments to “really end up passing sensible gun laws that will protect our constituents.”

Stermer said the ruling means local governments will “test now what the preemption means.”

“This was the only place in Florida law that had those heinous, heinous provisions, and it was purely meant for one thing, to chill elected officials from opening up our mouths and doing what we think is right for our local community,” Stermer said.

But Schenone, the Moody spokeswoman, said Dodson also ruled against Weston and other local governments on certain issues in the case. As examples, the judge rejected arguments that the 2011 law violated free-speech rights and is unconstitutionally vague.