Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried responded Friday to a National Rifle Association memo accusing her of “self-important arrogance” following her opposition this week to gun preemption law punishments.
In a brief filed Tuesday, the Commissioner opposed punishments, found unconstitutional in July, for local mayors and commissioners who consider certain gun control measures. And Friday, the NRA sent its supporters a message from its past president, Marion Hammer, calling Fried “the most anti-gun Commissioner of Agriculture in over 40 years — maybe ever!”
“Folks, you can’t make this stuff up … who would have imagined such self-important arrogance?” Hammer wrote.
The memo prompted Fried’s own press release.
“I made a promise during my campaign that the NRA would have no influence over me or our department.” said Fried, Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat. “I stand behind that promise.”
Since 1987, Florida has barred cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws, a concept known as “preemption” of local gun laws.
In 2011, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation creating punishments for local officials who preempt state firearm laws with stricter controls. The law, found unconstitutional by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, created fines up to $5,000 and subjected officials to removal from office.
Lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and the NRA asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to overturn Dodson’s ruling. Meanwhile, Fried’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, cities and counties lauded it.
“As I’ve said before, our state shouldn’t be threatening local elected mayors and councilmembers with fines and lawsuits just for doing their jobs,” Fried said. “I applauded Judge Dodson’s ruling earlier this year that these extreme punishments are unconstitutional, and I wholeheartedly join the voices of cities, counties, and leaders across our state asking the First District Court of Appeals to uphold that ruling.
Before Fried’s election, the department backed the law, and Fried was legally a defendant when she assumed office. But after not joining the state’s appeal, she is now an appellee with the local governments and officials.
In her brief submitted Tuesday, Fried said the punishments violated lawmakers’ protections by requiring officials to answer in court why the voted to pass certain laws.
“Courts would be required to inquire into why local legislators ‘voted in a particular way or to describe their process of gathering information’ for a local ordinance and ‘second guess’ the discretionary act of local governments,” Fried wrote in the brief.
But DeSantis and Moody’s attorneys wrote in their appeal last month that Dodson’s opinion was based on the unsupported theory. The judge had argued that immunity from the judiciary extended to local officials, invalidating the punishment.
“If allowed to stand, the decision will not only invite the development of a patchwork regulatory regime in the area of firearms but also render the Legislature impotent to deter power grabs by local officials in other areas,” the attorneys wrote.
The move made Fried a target of the NRA. Hammer said she and the local officials are disregarding their oaths of office to upload the law.
“The out-of-touch NRA simply can’t handle that they’ve lost control, they’ve lost in court, and they’ve lost revenue made at the expense of communities demanding common-sense gun safety,” Fried said.
Officials from more than 30 cities and counties rose to oppose the law after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018. In a Thursday memo to supporters, Hammer said those officials believe they have a right to violate state law.
“The issue is not important. The attitude and culture where city & county commissioners think they are above the law is the problem,” Hammer said.