Ten mayors from south Florida cities sued the state Monday, seeking the authority to regulate firearms on the municipal level without facing fines or losing their position in elected office.
A 2011 state statute penalizes local elected officials who try to enact their own gun control laws with a $5,000 fine and the threat of being removed from office.
The statute was primarily backed by the gun lobby, which has repeatedly shown how powerful and dangerous it is in Florida. Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) formidable Florida lobbyist, worked hard to implement the statute punishing local attempts at gun control.
A recent New Yorker story on Hammer describes how, in the days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty, a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives who represents a neighboring district, Jared Moskowitz, spoke with a Coral Springs city commissioner named Dan Daley.
According to Daley, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student told him simply to “do something” about gun control. Daley had to tell the student survivor that legally he was barred from doing anything or else he would lose his job, referencing the 2011 Florida statute.
“That’s the legacy of Marion Hammer,” Moskowitz told the New Yorker.
Mayors from Cutler Bay, Lauderhill, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens, Miramar, the village of Pinecrest, Weston, Pompano Beach, and South Miami want to change that.
They are in the process of suing Gov. Rick Scott (R), Attorney General Pam Bondi, and other state officials, alleging the statute is invalid and unconstitutional.
“It’s the right thing to do, and I’m glad [the city of] Weston has taken the lead,” Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli told the Sun-Sentinel. “It’s unconstitutional because we have the duty to regulate our zoning and public safety. The state is making it impossible for us.”
There is also at least one other similar lawsuit, led by the city of Coral Springs, in the works.
Valdés-Fauli’s threat of removal is cited in the suit brought by the city of Weston and nine south Florida cities. Shortly after the Parkland shooting, the city of Coral Gables attempted to become the first city in Florida to enact a citywide ban on assault rifles.
The city commission voted unanimously to draft a ban on the sale of military-style rifles, but the threat of fines and lawsuits weighed too heavily and the proposed ban failed.
“This is very frustrating. Because we’d love to do something about this,” said Coral Gables Commissioner Michael Mena. “Whether we like it or not, there is a state statute that prevents us from doing that.”
The 2011 statute presents a massive obstacle for local leaders who want to advance any gun control efforts in the state of Florida.
Just a few weeks ago, Scott defied the NRA and signed a suite of new firearms restrictions into law. The new law raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and extends the waiting period to three days for the purchase of all firearms. It also gives law enforcement more power to seize weapons and prohibits the sale of “bump stocks” — devices that can be put on semi-automatic weapons to increase their rate of fire. The legislation also allows some school personnel to be armed.
While not completely fulfilling the requests of some of the Parkland shooting survivors, the new restrictions represent an important step forward for gun control advocates.
But Florida’s powerful gun lobby isn’t backing down. The NRA sued the state of Florida shortly after the bill was signed into law. The lawsuit alleges the bill violates the constitutional rights of 18- to 21- year-olds.