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Florida Supreme Court to make decision on state gun law

Conservative justices seemed skeptical of arguments made on behalf of cities and Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court will soon make a decision on whether civil penalties against lawmakers for violations of a Florida preemption statute, which prohibits local governments from regulating firearms and ammunition, are constitutional.

Tallahassee has had sole control over gun laws since 1987, but in 2011, the legislature decided to make it even stricter. As it stands now, a local politician trying to change gun laws in his or her municipality could be fined up to $5,000 or even removed from office.

Fast forward to 2022, and it's that specific part of the law that personally punishes local lawmakers that's still being debated today.

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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and a coalition of local governments, including the city of St. Petersburg, are fighting against the 2011 law saying it violates legal immunities for local governments.

Following the 2018 Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the state passed its first gun control law in more than 20 years with the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act." It raised the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, enacted a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases and banned the sale of bump stocks.

Later in March 2018, then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller filed a motion to ban the sale of assault weapons knowing it went against Florida law and there was personal political and financial risk in doing so. The proposal died immediately as no one else on the commission even seconded the motion.

At the time Miller said, "I’m not worried about anything. If the governor wants to remove me, that’s his right. He has the law to do that. If he wants to fine me, he can."

Miller recently told 10 Tampa Bay he believes the reason his motion went nowhere back in 2018 is because his colleagues were intimidated by Florida law that bans local politicians from discussing stricter gun laws. He never did receive any punishment or warning from the state for proposing the measure.

Justices on the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday seemed skeptical of the arguments made on behalf of some Florida cities and Fried, according to The Associated Press.

“Our cases are very clear about the superiority of legislative power in this arena,” said Chief Justice Charles Canady. “That's why this whole case is kind of mystifying to me.”

Lawyer Edward Guedes, representing the municipalities, agreed the Legislature has the authority to preempt local laws but argued that a provision that could lead to fines for elected officials as individuals if they vote to enact gun and ammunition sales restrictions overstepped the Legislature's authority.

The Supreme Court of Florida is likely to decide on the case in the near future, but we might not find out their decision for several weeks or months when the opinion is made public.

Who's on the Florida Supreme Court?

There are seven justices on Florida's Supreme Court.

Five are required to participate in a case, and four must agree for a decision to be reached. All were appointed by Republican governors.

  • Chief Justice Charles T. Canady is from Lakeland. He was appointed in 2008 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
  • Justice John D. Couriel is from Miami and is a recent addition. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him in 2020.
  • Justice Jamie R. Grosshans was an appellate judge before DeSantis appointed her in 2020.
  • Justice Jorge Labarga is from Cuba. He started serving in 2009 after he was appointed by Crist.
  • Justice Alan Lawson is from Lakeland and has been on the high court since 2016 when he was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott.
  • Justice Carlos G. Muñiz worked for the attorney general before DeSantis appointed him to the court in 2019.
  • Justice Ricky Polston is from the Panhandle with ties to Tampa. He was appointed in 2008 by Crist.

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