A Florida judge has struck down a state law that threatened city and county officials with penalties if they approved gun regulations tougher than state laws.
Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson said in an order late Friday that Florida lawmakers can prohibit local regulation of firearms. But, he said, penalizing local officials for passing stricter laws is unconstitutional.
Florida has barred cities and counties from passing gun laws stricter than state laws since 1987, but lawmakers in 2011 approved penalties for local governments and officials.
Penalties included fines of up to $5,000 and removal from office. Members of the public could receive damages up to $100,000 and attorney fees if they successfully sued.
After the penalties were added to the law, several municipalities repealed ordinances that could come into conflict with the state’s “preemption” on matters dealing with firearms, and other municipalities decided not to approve any gun measures.
Local officials and governments challenged the law in 2018 after 17 people were killed in a massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Three lawsuits were consolidated into a single case. Many of the local officials and governments were from neighboring communities in south Florida, including Dan Daley, who at the time was a commissioner in Coral Springs.
The local officials and governments called the punitive aspects of the law “draconian” in their lawsuit. They claimed the penalties violated legislative immunity rights, separation of powers and government immunity provisions.
“Local elected officials have not just a right, but a responsibility to speak up and advocate for common sense gun reforms in their communities and should be able to do so without fear of penalty or punishment,” Daley, who is now a state lawmaker, said in a statement late Friday. “I am hopeful that it will thaw the chilling effect these draconian laws have had [on] our local elected officials.”