Local governments, state square off on gun law

A Leon County circuit judge Friday heard arguments in a challenge by 33 cities and counties to a state law that imposes strict penalties if local officials regulate firearms.

Judge Charles Dodson did not immediately rule on the constitutionality of the law, giving attorneys until 5 p.m. Thursday to file written proposed orders.

Florida since 1987 has barred cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws. But in 2011, lawmakers went further by approving a series of penalties that local governments and officials can face if they violate the prohibition.

The cities and counties contend the law is unconstitutional, in part because the penalties violate constitutional separation-of-powers requirements and free-speech rights. Also, they argue the prohibition on local governments passing gun-related ordinances is unconstitutionally vague.

Jamie Cole, one of the attorneys representing local governments, called the state law “unprecedented,” pointing to the stiff penalties that city and county governments and officials can face. But Daniel Bell, an attorney for the state, said the law prevents a “potential patchwork regulatory scheme” of gun restrictions across the state. The case involves 30 cities and three counties.

The 2011 changes to the law included a variety of penalties against local governments and officials if they violate the prohibition on passing gun regulations. For example, local officials can face fines up to $5,000 and potential removal from office. Also, members of the public and organizations could receive damages up to $100,000 and attorney fees if they successfully sue local governments for violations.

Local governments challenged the law after the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.