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Florida Supreme Court upholds firearms preemption statute that was challenged by the City of Gainesville

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld a Florida statute that imposes penalties, including fines and removal from office, on local government officials who pass firearms ordinances that differ from state laws. The statute was challenged by the City of Gainesville and 29 other Florida cities, Leon County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, and several individuals.

Florida Statute 790.33

The statute, originally passed in 1987, declared that the state legislature is the only entity in Florida that can regulate firearms and ammunition, “to the exclusion of all existing and future county, city, town, or municipal ordinances” or any local regulations. It declared all existing local firearms ordinances or regulations null and void. The penalties were added in 2011.

However, following the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, cities and counties began defying the statute and passing local ordinances. Alachua County, for example, passed an ordinance in 2018 that increased the waiting period for purchasing firearms to five days (state law provides for a three-day waiting period). At the time, former County Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson said, “I would hope the other counties would do the same thing, somebody had to be first.” The ordinance is still on the books, making the County vulnerable to lawsuits under the statute.

Lawsuits filed in 2018

A number of cities and counties filed lawsuits challenging the statute, and those cases were consolidated into the City of Weston v. State of Florida case that was just decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

The issue in the case was whether the doctrines of legislative immunity and governmental function immunity prohibit fines and penalties imposed against local governments and officials, and Justice Ricky Polston’s opinion, signed by five of the other justices, held that neither doctrine prohibited the penalties. Justice Jorge Labarga wrote a dissent to Polston’s opinion, and Justice Renatha Francis, who was appointed in 2022, did not participate. 

City of Gainesville, current Mayor, former Mayor, and two former Commissioners joined the lawsuit

At the April 15, 2021, Gainesville City Commission meeting, former City Attorney Nicolle Shalley asked the commission whether they wanted to continue with the case after an appellate court’s ruling went against them. During the discussion, then-Commissioner and current Mayor Harvey Ward said, “It is not a question of simply preempting. It is a question of going entirely nuclear on any local government who has the temerity to pass anything regarding firearms or ammunition. It is a massive legislative overreach. And has been since it was passed.”

Then-Mayor Lauren Poe added, “It’s not just a fine. You can be removed from office, and even comes with jail time. And more than that, it’s the precedent that if the state legislature can remove officials from office or fine or imprison them for doing their jobs, for doing what the people who elected them want them to do, asked them to do, it is a gross intimidation within the democratic process. So this is about much more than guns.”

The city commission voted unanimously to continue supporting the lawsuit, and Ward, Poe, former Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, and former Commissioner David Arreola said they wanted to continue to be named individually in the lawsuit; Alachua Chronicle has submitted a public records request to determine how much the City spent on the lawsuit.

Order and dissent

Justice Polston’s order quoted a precedent from a previous case that “legislative immunity does not shield individuals who knowingly and willfully act contrary to or beyond the limits of state law.” He also wrote that “Local governments, including counties and municipalities, are creatures of the State without any independent sovereignty” and “It is not a core municipal function to occupy an area that the Legislature has preempted, and local governments have no lawful discretion or authority to enact ordinances that violate state preemption.”

Justice Labarga wrote in his dissent that the statute imposes penalties on local officials for “knowing and willful” violations of the statute, which is “an impermissible judicial intrusion into the official’s legislative thought process, and it undermines the official’s ability to effectuate the constituents’ will.”

  • Best news I heard all day the last thing we need is these elected idiots in Gainesville and Alachua County try to regulate our 2A rights

  • “Ward, Poe, former Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, and former Commissioner David Arreola said they wanted to continue to be named individually in the lawsuit; ” So when do they have to pony up the the cash in fines for their willfull breaking of the State law, as well as being removed from office for those still holding same? Hopefully it will be very soon, as there is no possibility of further appeal.

  • So glad Poe is no longer Mayor. His comment was completely irrational, suggesting that officials could be fined and/or imprisoned for”doing their jobs”! Violating state law is not “doing their jobs”, it is called “breaking the law”. What a moron.

  • Glad those mask wearing fascist Marxists are gone…they have a mental disorder…they should have to
    Pay the taxpayers back for wasting our hard earned tax money…they should be prohibited from holding office ever again…Ward should be removed from office for not protecting our inalienable rights.
    God bless America!

  • Gun-grabbing commies haven’t learned from history. But gun owners have. Maybe the grabbers should take remedial history lessons given by commie victims who settled in Fla.

  • Interesting that Poe used the defense it would keep him from doing the job of doing that his constituents wanted. Where was that logic during the single family zoning debacle?

    • Per the public support, the officials voted the way the Gainesville public wanted. Maybe you aren’t in line with the majority of public in Gainesville. True?

      • Terry, Per the results of the single member districts, which was approved by a majority of voters – officials are looking for ways to circumvent those results.
        So contrary to what many claim, local officials don’t really care unless it aligns with their own privately held ideologies.

      • Couldn’t care less about the city of Gainesville or it’s government dependent voting base!
        I don’t respect entitled voters that vote for other peoples money to be confiscated and redistributed! I don’t respect voters that need government to navigate life!
        No adult with a functioning brain and self sufficient is “in line” with the pathetic way of life democrat voters choose to live!

      • So your saying that the citizens of Gainesville want the increase gur rates when these idiots vote for them, doing away with single family homes them joining a suit against guns is the same thing

  • I guess we’ll see just how committed local leadership is. Can’t wait to watch them squirming in their seats from fear rather than that “working” together feeling.
    In the meantime, any who was named individually in the suit needs to pay the legal fees. Poe, Ward and the others – time to put your money where you put other things.

  • They are probably worried about their fellow leftists having mental health episodes and killings themselves with guns. Did they ever figure out what killed former mayor Craig Lowe a couple of weeks ago?

    • I sure hope it gets passed it’s a shame we need a law to give us our rights that the 2A has already given us

  • Maybe if Dems actually knew how to run a city or state anywhere — just their own 95% voter districts to start — the rest of us would feel safer. And there wouldn’t be such a demand for self-defense. GPD is down 44 officers and reduced their K-9 unit due to trendy national politics, is the latest straw…

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