Weston-led Effort to Overturn Firearms Regulation Passes First Hurdle

Following last year’s school shooting in Parkland, the City of Weston led a lawsuit against the State of Florida over a 2011 provision that prevents local governments and officials from enacting gun safety laws without facing severe penalties. Although the lawsuit was initiated by Weston and nine other South Florida municipalities, it ultimately involved 30 cities, three counties and more than 70 elected officials as it was consolidated with two other similar lawsuits. In late July, a Leon County Circuit Court Judge ruled the firearm preemption was unconstitutional. Days later the State filed an appeal, leaving the sanctions in place for now.

At issue is a current law that prohibits city and county leaders from enacting local gun ordinances, such as prohibiting firearms in city buildings and parks, or face severe and unprecedented personal penalties. This includes civil fines up to $5,000 and removal from office for officials who violate the preemption. If sued, officials can not use public funds for their legal defense. In addition, local governments could also face potential lawsuits for attorney’s fees and damages up to $100,000.

Mayor Daniel Stermer says he is pleased with the ruling. “It restored my faith that an independent judiciary can review actions taken by the Florida Legislature and rule fairly and on balance – the preemption underlying the stricken provisions remains and the City Commission will review what action, if any, to consider going forward relative to firearms.”

Weston City Attorney Jamie Alan Cole, who led the legal action, also commended the judge’s ruling in this case. “The decision was well-written, well-reasoned and is based upon decisions of the United States Supreme Court, the Florida Supreme Court and the various Florida District Courts of Appeals, and is based upon doctrines that are the bedrocks of American democracy. This ruling gives cities the ability to pass legislation that tests the boundaries of the firearm preemption, without the fear of being thrown out of office or penalized.”

In a nutshell, the lawsuit sought to invalidate the penalties so that cities and local officials could enact gun control ordinances. While many states have firearm preemption laws, Florida was the first in 2011 to go so far as to punish local lawmakers with personal fines and the threat of removal from office for doing what they feel their job is and representing their constituents. 

Although now under appeal, the Court’s decision invalidates the extreme and extraordinary penalties that deter local officials from even considering enacting reasonable and constitutional firearms regulations in their communities. The Court’s decision found the penalties and damage claims to be invalid and unconstitutional because they violate legislative immunity and separation of powers, violate governmental function immunity, conflict with the Governor’s limited power to remove local government officials, and impair existing contracts with county administrators. The Leon County Circuit Court judge declared all of the penalties to be invalid on those grounds.