Florida AG Fights Ruling in Favor of Local Gun Laws

(CN) – Florida’s Republican attorney general has appealed a recent court ruling that struck down parts of a state law prohibiting local governments from enacting firearm regulations, a week after she asked the state’s high court to reject a ballot measure aimed at banning assault weapons.

Attorney General Ashley Moody filed the notice of appeal on Tuesday night, four days after Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson found the law’s penalties were unconstitutional.

Students are evacuated by police out of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooter opened fire on Feb. 14, 2018. (Mike Stocker, South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Dodson’s 15-page ruling did not address the validity of the underlying preemption law — the Joe Carlucci Uniform Firearms Act of 1987 – but instead focused on a 2011 amendment to the statute that added penalties, including fining elected officials up to $5,000 and removing them from office.

In addition to the fine and removal from office, the amendment also allowed for officials to be sued personally and prohibited using public funds to defend those suits. Although the state claims preemption in all manner of local regulations, this is the only one that added such stiff penalties.

Though the preemption law has drawn criticism – and legal challenges – in the past, the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last year renewed cities’ efforts to pass ordinances regulating guns. However, many municipalities backed down after threats of lawsuits from gun rights groups.

In 2018, 10 cities, mostly based in South Florida, sued the previous administration of former Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet over the law. After winning their elections in November, new Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and Moody continued to fight the suit on behalf of the state.

On Wednesday, Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who was listed as one of the defendants after her predecessor left office, called on the state to drop the appeal.

“It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer time, money and resources with this appeal,” Fried told reporters. “Given the tragedies our communities have faced, they deserve the right to make those decisions for themselves without Tallahassee politicians getting in the way.”

Fried also directed the attorney general to remove her name from the appeal.

“When I was elected, I said the NRA’s influence on this office is over and I certainly won’t let them argue in court on my behalf,” she said, referring to the National Rifle Association.

A spokesperson for Moody’s office declined to comment due to the pending litigation.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, state Representative Dan Daley, said he was not surprised by the appeal.

“It simply shows the NRA has more influence than the 412 municipalities that make up this great state,” said Daley, who previously served as a city commissioner in Coral Springs when it passed zoning regulations prohibiting gun stores near schools.

In a letter to NRA members, lobbyist Marion Hammer said Judge Dodson’s ruling gave “rogue, anti-gun government officials a ‘get-out-jail-free card.'”

“This ruling is like a parent telling an underage teenager, you are forbidden to smoke, drink alcohol, or do drugs — but don’t worry, if you disobey me and do it anyhow, I won’t punish you,” she wrote.

The attorney general’s appeal comes on the heels of another challenge to the state’s gun laws. Ban Assault Weapons Now, a Miami-based gun control advocacy group, has gathered nearly 100,000 signatures for a 2020 ballot initiative that would prohibit the possession of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once.

Last week, Moody filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court opposing the ballot measure.

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