Appeals judge skeptical of gun law challenge
By Matt Dixon
An appeals court Tuesday heard oral arguments in an effort to overturn a 2011 NRA-backed law that allows local governments to be penalized for passing gun laws stricter than those passed by Florida’s Republican-led Legislature.
Background: The effort to overturn the law is being led by the City of Weston. The city claims that while lawmakers have authority to preempt certain local regulation, the $5,000 penalty created by the 2011 bill is the first of its kind in the state and not legal.
“Where we have our problem is where there is a punishment attached to it. This has never happened before in the history of Florida,” Ed Guedes, an attorney with Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman who represents the city, told the court. “This is the only time the Legislature has said, ‘even though we are not in some kind of crisis, we are going to punish you for a violation.’”
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal must decide whether to uphold a 2019 lower court ruling that tossed out the penalty language, which was sponsored by former state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican now in Congress.
The lawsuit was filed in 2018 after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.
Pushback: Plaintiffs drew opposition from Judge Brad Thomas, who repeatedly asked Guedes why he thought local governments could adopt ordinances that violate state law.
“Is it your opinion that local governments of the state of Florida are above the law?” he asked.
Guedes said the penalty is at odds with “bedrock” constitutional provisions that allow for areas of local control. Because the underlying law allows local governments to regulate some elements of firearms, the penalty language is too broad and local officials could face consequences for actions that are legal.
As part of his argument, Guedes described a hypothetical scenario where local lawmakers are brought into court under the penalty provisions being challenged.
“So, the local legislators are hauled into court and they are asked by the litigants, ‘tell us why you voted the way you voted … give us your insights, your subjective, theoretical insights as to why this legislation was necessary,” Guedes said. “And I respectfully suggest that this is a line that should, and cannot, be consistent with the separation of powers doctrine and Florida’s separation of powers.”