The Senate has passed legislation to stop cities and counties from creating unwritten gun policies and preventing them from circumventing punishment.
By a 23-16 party-line vote, senators approved Estero Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues‘ bill (SB 1884) to clarify that the state’s preemption over local firearm and ammunition laws applies to unwritten rules. Additionally, local governments couldn’t bypass a court case by scrapping the gun law in question.
State law expressly prohibits a local government from creating an “ordinance, regulation, measure, directive, rule, enactment, order or policy” relating to guns that is more restrictive than state law. The broad list was intended to show it includes unwritten policies, but some courts have sided with cities and counties on unwritten rules.
Gun issues are just one area Republicans have attempted to “preempt” local government’s ability to write their own laws. Varying local rules create a patchwork of regulations, some contend.
Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer argued this bill continues the “steady, slow march of preemption.”
In particular, Republicans believe local governments have gotten away with ending their unwritten gun policies when facing lawsuits. The bill would require local governments to pay for the attorney fees in those cases.
“We’ve had some locations with unwritten policies that have led to lawsuits, and then during the suit, the government entity will drop enforcing the policy that they had, and ask the court to dismiss the case as moot,” Rodrigues said last week. “And when they do that, the plaintiff is obviously able to get their weapons, but they are stuck with paying the attorney fees.”
Florida has barred cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws since 1987. Under the existing law, municipalities that break the state preemption law face up to $100,000 in damages. However, they are normally only asked to pay for the plaintiff’s attorneys fees and to repeal the local policy.
Farmer told senators he believes the legislation “goes too far” on reserving gun laws for the state.
“I don’t know that any cities really have unwritten policies with regard to firearms, but what can happen is they can react to a situation and give a directive which might be interpreted as an unwritten policy,” Farmer said.
Earlier this month, the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected a challenge to a 2011 law meant to stiffen penalties for violating the preemption law. A Leon County circuit judge in 2019 found that parts of the law were unconstitutional, spurring Attorney General Ashley Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis to appeal.
That followed a separate court case last month in which the 4th District Court of Appeal sided with the gun-rights group Florida Carry over Broward County, which in 2014 created ordinances to prevent people from carrying weapons at airports and in taxis. In an opinion, Chief Judge Spencer Levine said the ban on “weapons” included guns.
Groups in support of the bill include the National Rifle Association, the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and Gun Owners of America. Meanwhile, the Florida National Organization for Women opposes it.
Farmer added that he believes the bill will have a chilling effect on local governments’ abilities to “do the right thing.” However, House sponsor Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, has specifically said he hopes the bill would limit unwritten gun policies.
Byrd’s version (HB 1409) is ready for a vote on the House floor. The House was expected to consider it Thursday but postponed it, likely to pick up the Senate version.