Appellate court mulls penalties for local officials who violate gun preemption

Local elected officials could face fines as high as $5,000 and potential removal from office.
Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 3:47 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) - Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could decide whether the State Legislature has the ability to punish local officials who pass gun restrictions tighter than the state’s.

Local governments have been preempted on gun regulations since 1987, but in 2011 state lawmakers tagged on penalties for officials who violate the preemption.

Local elected officials could face fines as high as $5,000 and potential removal from office.

The law also provides that members of the public who successfully challenge local gun regulations are eligible for up to $100,000 in damages.

Local governments suing the state scored an early victory in a circuit court, with a judge striking down the penalties, but now the state is asking an appellate court to overturn that ruling.

“Local governments are not separate sovereigns. They are inferior arms of the state. They are subject to the state government,” said James Percival, Chief Deputy Solicitor General representing the state.

Local governments argued the penalties have a chilling effect, but the state said that’s exactly the point.

“The goal is to have local governments stay out of this area because there is preemption,” said Percival.

Judge Bradford L. Thomas had tough questions for the local governments.

“Is it your view that the local governments of the State of Florida are above the law?” asked Judge Thomas.

“Of course not your honor,” responded Edward Guedes, the attorney representing local governments.

But gun regulation is the only preemption backed by penalties for local officials.

Local governments worry it could be a slippery slope.

“Today, it’s a fine. It’s a fine and a deprivation of your ability to obtain a public defense. Whatever the consequences may be. Tomorrow, a local official is jailed, for having in good conscience, voted for legislation. Merely voted for legislation,” said Guedes.

No matter how the judges rule, local governments will still be barred from passing tighter gun restrictions, but if the state loses, enforcing that preemption would be more difficult.

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