In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Florida’s gun rights laws trump sanity

Ernie Vasiliou was aghast at the notion of someone building a day care center next to his property west of Boynton Beach with all the attendant ruckus that comes with 400 whooping kids.

He warned the Palm Beach County Zoning Commission that he wouldn’t stand for such a commotion. According to the Palm Beach Post, Vasiliou told the commissioners, “If noise is not a problem, then the noise I create will not be a problem as well.”

He referred to the sound of gunfire.

“I plan on putting a shooting range on my property,” Vasiliou said at the Dec. 6 meeting. “As long as it is legal, I’m going to do that. No joke.”

It’s legal. No joke.

If Vasiliou puts a shooting range on the lot next to a day care, there’s nothing much any local government entity can do about it. In 2011, the state legislature, in its capacity as the official lapdog of the NRA, passed a preemption statute that prohibits a city or county from enacting any gun ordinance that exceeds state law.

So much for local ordinances outlawing guns in playgrounds or parks or public buildings. Or restricting shooting ranges. Florida law specifies: “Except as expressly provided by general law, the Legislature hereby declares that it is occupying the whole field of regulation of firearms and ammunition use at sport shooting and training ranges.”

State laws are so permissive, the Herald’s Cammy Clark reported this week, that Monroe County authorities can’t prohibit or even regulate a makeshift gun range built last month in a residential neighborhood on Big Pine Key. “Without any oversight, somebody’s neighbor could set up a gun range and invite his friends over and have a good old time shooting,” said Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent.

Clark reported that the Monroe commissioners, at a special meeting on Friday, will likely vote to ask for a state attorney general’s opinion on whether the county has legal authority to regulate shooting ranges in residential areas. County Attorney Bob Shillinger warned them that it’s a futile request. “Your hands are tied.”

Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers called the gun range dilemma “ridiculous and absurd.” She’s right. but our state legislature, when it comes to guns, embraces the ridiculous and absurd.

A city can prohibit a homeowner from maintaining backyard chicken coops, but not a firing range. In Miami Shores, the city inspectors can cite someone for planting a vegetable garden in their front yard, but not for shooting out back. Coral Gables can regulate the color of exterior house paint. Until a couple years ago, the city prohibited pick-up trucks. But Florida law preempts even the Gables when it comes to shooting ranges.

Local government regulate tree houses, storage sheds, the number of household pets, the size of garage doors. Shooting ranges lie beyond the purview of a city or county inspector.

The attendant hazards transcend stray shots flying around the neighborhood, though that ought to be enough. California is phasing out the use of lead hunting ammo because of the toxic effect on wildlife. Florida, however, has exempted owners of firing ranges from civil or legal liabilities relating to the environmental effects of lead on wildlife or humans. Florida law states, “Unnecessary litigation and unnecessary regulation by governmental agencies of sport shooting and training ranges impairs the ability of residents of this state to ensure safe handling of firearms and to enjoy the recreational opportunities ranges provide.

No worries, then, about the lead slamming into human or mucking up the environment. Shrug off that report from the National Academy of Sciences warning that “Repeated exposure to the toxic metal causes a raft of health problems including brain damage, high blood pressure, and anemia.” The academy, of course, was concerned about military gun ranges. Not the shooting range next door.

Surely, most Floridians regard unregulated backyard shooting ranges as insane. Just as most Floridians would be appalled at the notion of allowing college kids to pack heat on campus. But on Tuesday, Broward College became only the latest Florida public college or university forced — under threat of lawsuit from gun rights advocates — to rescind its campus firearms ban.

The state’s permissive gun laws, no matter how dangerous, preempt the judgement of mayors and county commissioners and college administrators. State law preempts your judgement too, when a wild-eyed, paranoid neighbor jerry-rigs a back yard gun range.

Better hope his aim is better than the the Florida legislature’s common sense.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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