LEON COUNTY, Fla. – Everytown for Gun Safety, the country’s largest gun violence prevention organization, applauded a Friday ruling by the Florida Circuit Court, Leon County, finding Florida’s NRA-backed firearms preemption law penalties to be unconstitutional. The ruling is the first of its kind nationally to find that local officials cannot be dragged into court and penalized for passing local gun safety ordinances. The decision is therefore significant not only in Florida but in other states as well, where local officials face similar extreme gun-lobby backed laws or have been threatened with personal penalties or even criminal charges for passing local gun safety ordinances.
“As the court recognized, it is unconstitutional to severely penalize local officials and cities for acting to protect their communities by passing gun safety ordinances they believe are not preempted,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director of Everytown Law. “This ruling is particularly significant because it is the first time any court has found that the gun lobby’s preferred extreme form of firearms preemption is unconstitutional. The decision is welcome news for cities trying to respond with action, even if their ability to act continues to be limited by gun lobby-backed preemption laws.”
After the mass shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a number of Florida municipalities and counties challenged the state’s draconian law providing that local governments and officials who pass gun safety laws can be fined, removed from office and forced to pay damages and legal fees if the laws are later found to be preempted.
Friday’s ruling is not the first time a court has found an extreme NRA-backed Florida law to be unconstitutional; in 2017, a federal appeals court similarly found in a 10-1 decision that a Florida law barring doctors from asking patients routine questions about their patients’ firearms ownership was also unconstitutional.
Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, along with the law firm Proskauer Rose LLP, serves as lead counsel for four of the Florida cities and several local elected officials who brought one of the three consolidated lawsuits that led to Friday’s ruling, including Coral Springs, Coconut Creek, Pembroke Pines and Wilton Manors. Just last month, Everytown Law filed a lawsuit in West Virginia on behalf of a coalition of domestic violence shelters, challenging the constitutionality of another gun-lobby backed law preventing private property owners from keeping guns out of their parking lots.
Under the punitive aspect of Florida’s firearms preemption law, if a city passes gun violence prevention legislation that is later found to be preempted, the municipality can be forced to pay up to $100,000 in damages per lawsuit plus unlimited legal fees, and the elected officials who voted to pass the ordinance can be fined up to $5,000 and removed from office if they are found to have acted knowingly and willfully. Of the 40+ other states that have firearms preemption laws, several also have provisions that threaten to penalize local officials for passing local firearms ordinances, including Arizona and Kentucky.