State Supreme Court rejects local governments’ suit against penalties for local gun control laws

A Palmetto M4 assault rifle is seen at the Rocky Mountain Guns and Ammo store in Parker, Colorado
The 2018 lawsuit was filed in the wake of the massacre at a Parkland high school.

The state Supreme Court ruled against cities seeking more power to regulate firearms within their city limits.

The court refused to throw out a law that local officials can be fined for passing gun control ordinances, and that cities can be sued for having these local laws on the books. The statute, called a preemption law, which limits local regulation, was passed in 2011.

The state Supreme Court ruling, with Justice Jorge Labarga dissenting, let stand a 2021 ruling from the First District Court of Appeals. The appeals court found that a 2011 statute, initially thrown out by lower court, allows local officials to be fined $5,000 individually for approving local gun control ordinances, such as prohibiting a gun in the lobby of City Hall, for example.

The measure also states that cities can be sued for having a local gun control law on the books.

The lawsuit against these penalties was filed in the wake of the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Eventually 30 cities, three counties and more than 70 elected officials, led by the city of Weston, joined the suit.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the massacre that is the state’s deadliest school shooting, panned the decision.

“I”m not surprised try the inability of this Supreme Court to get it right when it comes to public safety and other things that matter to Floridians,” said Guttenberg, who’s since become an advocate for stricter gun laws.

The Legislature passes laws that stop local governments from acting on a host of other issues. Another state statute preempts local municipalities from passing laws that prohibit short-term vacation rentals, for example. But no other state preemption laws come with penalties if the preemption is breached, like this legislation.

The plaintiffs had argued that centuries of tradition offer legislators, even local ones, immunity from punishment as they represent their communities. The Governor’s authority to remove a local official for passing gun control measures was successfully challenged and taken off the books, a lawyer in the case said.

But the state Supreme Court Justices found in Tuesday’s ruling that local officials should still be subject to the $5,000 fine and municipalities face lawsuits for trying to impose gun regulations. 

“Local governments, including counties and municipalities, are creatures of the State without any independent sovereignty,” the decision reads.

Weston’s lawyer, Jamie Cole of Weiss Serota, Helfman Cole & Bierman of Fort Lauderdale, said no decision has been made about appealing the Supreme Court ruling.

“We feel that legislative immunity is such a strong pillar of democracy, the Legislature should not be able to simply abrogate (repudiate) it by passing a statute,” said Cole, who led the suit. “It’s a sad day for legislative immunity in Florida and a sad day for local home rule.”

No discipline is pending against any locale for passing gun restrictions. But Esther Sanchez-Gomez, legislative director for Giffords, a nonprofit looking to strengthen gun control regulations, said Florida’s penalties for preempting gun control local laws are among the most severe in the country.

Local officials are chilled from finding something that may work for their community when it comes to gun control, she said.

“They (local officials) are not considering the full scope of what they actually have the authority to do because the penalties are so severe for stepping one toe over the line,” she said.

The state’s gun regulations are expected to get even looser this year — permitless gun carry is expected to be one the agenda and pass.

Former state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried had declined to support the state’s case against the suit in her state role and supported the trial court’s ruling that found for the cities. She said that the ruling was disappointing.

“We all know that government works best closest to the people and that (gun control) is a power that local governments should be allowed to find the loopholes in the state statue and do what they can if they feel they have the support of their community,” she said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • Irony

    January 20, 2023 at 6:20 am

    The Author, Giffords, Brady all the others trying to disarm law abiding citizens, to include all local jurisdictions, apparently need reminding that the bias, nepotism, favoritism, cronyism, a tyrannical need for control of the masses (see above group of names), and outright corruption was the reason that the state took it away from said locals in the first place.
    The Florida CCW system has never worked better since the State took-back control of it in 1987.
    I know, I’ve lived here all the way back to when open carry was the rule, not the exception. Florida was very, very peaceful then.
    So stop throwing all the bleeding heart B.S. against the wall hoping something will stick.

  • Nab Daggett

    January 25, 2023 at 3:29 pm

    Look at the historical application of Home Rule in Florida, and it stinks of racism, corruption and the Boss Hog mentality. It’s doesn’t boil down to gun control, but it does always boil down to people control, usually in some perversion of safety, public health or the natural environment. Those in big positions in little towns enjoy the power differential they hold over the everyday citizen at the expense of his natural rights. When they they get caught, the first thing they hate is accountability for their attempts of subjugation over those natural rights.
    Accountability of napoleonic style of government is the antithesis of legislative immunity. State preemption in Florida statutes is meaningless unless there’s some teeth built into it. Glad you local despots will enjoy a $5K smack in the face when you attempt to cross the legislative line in the future.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704