Court sets arguments in major gun case

The 1st District Court of Appeal will hear arguments June 16 in a closely watched case about a 2011 state law that threatened tough penalties if city and county officials approve gun regulations.

The court issued an order Tuesday scheduling the arguments in an appeal by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody.

State lawyers are asking that the Tallahassee-based appeals court overturn a circuit judge’s ruling that said parts of the law were unconstitutional. Florida since 1987 has barred cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws, and the penalties in the 2011 law were designed to strengthen that “preemption.”

The law, for example, could lead to local officials facing $5,000 fines and potential removal from office for passing gun regulations.

Local governments and officials filed three lawsuits challenging the 2011 law after the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people. The lawsuits were ultimately consolidated in Leon County circuit court.

Attorneys for the local governments said in a court document that city and county officials had been urged to take actions after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. Those requests involved such things as requiring procedures or documentation to ensure compliance with background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases and requiring reporting of failed background checks.

But the attorneys said local governments refrained from going ahead with the proposals because of the potential penalties in state law. In finding parts of the law unconstitutional, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson in July cited issues related to “legislative immunity,” which protects local government officials in their decision-making processes. He also pointed to the constitutional separation of powers, as judges could be asked to rule on penalizing local officials.

But supporters of the law, including the National Rifle Association, contend it is needed to prevent cities and counties from overstepping their legal authority in passing gun regulations.