Since 1987, Florida law has prohibited city and county governments from adopting their own gun laws or placing restrictions on firearms. The law gives the state carte blanche to occupy "the whole field" of firearm and ammunition regulation. The legislature gave it some teeth in 2011 by tacking on $5,000 fees and threatening removal from office if legislators violated the law.
As a result, pro-gun advocacy organizations have repeatedly sued Florida cities and counties over gun-control ordinances. A Broward circuit judge last week ruled in favor of a gun-rights organization that sued Broward County and the county's administrator over ordinances that "infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution."
Judge Carlos A. Rodriguez ruled that three county ordinances regulate firearms in violation of Florida statute and permanently banned Broward County from enforcing ordinances that relate to guns and ammunition. Florida Carry, a pro-gun advocacy organization, filed the lawsuit in 2014.
"The core of the issue is that they do not have the authority to regulate firearms and ammunition, and they were doing so," says Sean Caranna, the organization's executive director.
The judge awarded the organization just $1 in damages and reimbursement of legal fees.
Florida Carry went after Broward ordinances related to the possession of firearms outside "sterile zones" of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines. The ordinances say no one other than on-duty law enforcement officers can carry or discharge guns at the airports. The ordinances also say no one can sell or trade firearms at the airport unless they have a county permit.
"What they had done was prohibited firearms on all airport property," Caranna says. "If you have a concealed carry license and went to pick someone up at FLL, you'd have violated their ordinance."
Another ordinance prohibited possession of switchblades, knives, clubs, or other weapons by "common motor carriers," which appears to mean anyone who operates a motor vehicle.
The Broward county attorney's office didn't respond to an interview request from New Times about the lawsuit. But in court documents, the county argued the lawsuit was moot because local ordinances purporting to regulate firearms are declared null and void under state law.
The judge's order doesn't say anything about repealing the ordinances, and as of yesterday, the ordinances were still included in the county's codes.
Florida Carry's first complaint against Broward listed seven ordinances that reportedly violated the state's preemption law, including ordinances that regulated guns in public parks, childcare facilities, and unincorporated areas of the county. Caranna says the complaint was amended after the county repealed some of those ordinances.
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Florida's firearms statute allows people or organizations "adversely affected" by gun-control ordinances to sue for injunctions and damages. Florida Carry has filed lawsuits against cities including Tallahassee and Daytona Beach and schools including Florida State University and the University of Florida over gun restrictions.
Lawmakers who support local gun control have said Florida's preemption law has a "chilling effect" on officials' ability to consider or adopt firearm regulations. A coalition of South Florida cities and officials filed three lawsuits challenging the preemption law in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting in 2018.
Last year, increased reports of injuries and property damage in the rural Golden Gate Estates community east of Naples sparked petitions among residents and debates among leaders about backyard shooting ranges. Residents wanted strict regulations, while county officials said their hands were tied. The county attorney told a commissioner it would be a "terrible idea" to even put an item on a commission agenda to talk about the issue.
"They could remove you from the dais," the county attorney told the commissioner. "Now, I've never seen a preemption statute quite like that in my life."