The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments next week in a dispute over a 2011 state law that allows for penalties if city and county officials pass gun regulations. The hearing comes amid a ramped-up debate over gun laws due to recent mass shootings in Texas and New York.

The case made it to the Supreme Court when a coalition of local governments and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried filed notices back in June 2021. The notices were the initial steps in asking the Supreme Court to hear the case and came a month after the 1st District Court of Appeal denied a request to send the case to the Supreme Court.

The efforts to get the issue in front of the Supreme Court came after a Tallahassee-based appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the 2011 law in April, 2021

Since 1987, Florida has barred cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws, and the penalties in the 2011 law were designed to strengthen that “preemption.”

The law was challenged by local governments and officials who were urged to take action after the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people. However, attorneys for the local governments indicated in  a 2019 court document that the requested actions were not taken up by elected officials due to the potential penalties outlined in the 2011 state law.

The requested actions included requiring procedures or documentation to ensure compliance with background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases and requiring reporting of failed background checks.

Along with officials facing the possibility of fines and removal from office, the law would allow members of the public and organizations to receive damages and attorney fees if they successfully sue local governments for improper gun regulations.

The local governments and officials contended the penalties in the 2011 law were unconstitutional.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the NRA said the law was needed as “local governments wish to continue imposing ordinances to unlawfully regulate the sale, possession and use of firearms and ammunition.”

But attorneys for the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Giffords Law Center, Brady, and the Equality Florida Institute wrote that the law will “chill legitimate exercises of local legislative authority.”

“In sum, the NRA has presented no evidence of rogue local officials willfully violating state law or constitutional rights,” the groups’ brief said. “On the contrary, the NRA’s examples show local legislators working in good faith on solutions to difficult policy problems. The state’s and the NRA’s effort to punish local legislators for pursuing such solutions underscores the importance of legislative immunity.”

The oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court will begin on June 9.

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Steve Stewart is a senior contributor at The Florida Capital Star. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Florida Supreme Court” by Steven Martin. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.