A group of Miami-Dade mayors — some of them gun owners, all taking a politically risky stance — launched an effort Tuesday to try and sidestep state firearms laws by forcing gun distributors and manufacturers to disclose training techniques and methods used to keep firearms out of the hands of indicted traffickers.
The group pledged support to a nonprofit called Arms With Ethics, which is pushing for laws in cities throughout Miami-Dade that would force gun sellers to disclose if they train their staff to out straw buyers, and admit if indicted traffickers buy their weapons.
The initiative is bound to be a tough sell in Florida, a gun-rights-favoring state with a controversial Stand Your Ground law, and other laws that allow firearms in public parks and homeowners to build firing ranges in their backyards.
“It isn’t about trying to infringe on everyone’s right to bear arms,” said Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert. It’s about “telling us what you’re doing, and trying to keep our children safe.”
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Tuesday’s announcement sparked an immediate backlash from the gun lobby and Tallahassee lawmakers who advocate those laws. Only federal and state governments, they say, can set gun standards because of the Firearms Preemption Law.
The Firearms Preemption Law says only state and federal lawmakers can make gun law, and that local municipalities cannot toughen them.
“Isn’t that regulating dealers to make them conform to standards before doing business?” asked National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer. “It’s regulation by fiat, is what it is. Local governments may not adopt ordinances dealing with firearms or ammunition.”
More than 40 states have preemption laws, which block municipalities from creating gun laws. Florida’s, though, is particularly severe. Local elected leaders who knowingly pass gun laws can be fined up to $5,000, sued, and can be tossed from office by the governor.
Passing laws that that could interfere with the sale of weapons and rights of citizens to own them has proved elusive throughout the nation over the years — never more than in recent years, where even after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre and the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida couldn’t shake lawmakers enough to pass gun control bills.
Floridians aren’t even required to get a permit to purchase or own a handgun.
Still, supporters of the change cite an exemption to the preemption law that allows local governments to create rules for guns that are used by law enforcement.
“It doesn’t regulate anything,” said Casey Woods, a former Miami Herald reporter and founder of the nonprofit Arms With Ethics, which is pushing the plan. “It just asks them for information on what they’re already doing.”
On Tuesday, Woods spoke of the initiative and took questions at the Paragon Theaters in Coconut Grove’s CocoWalk, surrounded by a handful of police directors and mayors during an hour-long news conference.
In attendance were Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his Police Director J.D. Patterson. Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason and County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson also were there, along with Gilbert from Miami Gardens. Woods explained the initiative, then showed a brief black and white video with statements from other mayors.
“When it comes to gun violence, we haven’t done enough,” Woods said. “If we act collectively it has tremendous power.”
She proposed a two-prong attack to make Miami-Dade County’s streets safer. The first has been undertaken: Getting 13 municipalities and the county to initially support the plan.
Now comes the hard part: Getting all those municipalities and others to pass laws that would require distributors and manufacturers who bid on weapons sales locally to disclose who they sell guns to, and if their staff is properly trained to detect straw buyers who often front gun sales.
Specifically, Wood’s group wants cities to force manufacturers to disclose what measures they take to keep weapons away from children, criminals, and those with mental illness. They also want them to reveal if they halt sales to indicted gun dealers.
To distributors bidding on gun contracts, any bill would require disclosing daily or quarterly audits, if firearms are stored safely, and measures in place to detect firearms used in crimes. Miami-Dade paid a distributer who sells Glock handguns more than $700,000 in its last weapons buy in 2010, Woods said, though county officials couldn’t confirm that Tuesday.
“When guns wind up in the hands of criminals, tragedies occur,” said Scott Masington, a major in Coral Gables and the president of the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police.
Miami-Dade’s Gimenez said the effort is not aimed at rights of law-abiding citizens to have firearms — it’s to “prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals.”
Arms With Ethics also showed an effective four-minute black-and-white video of several mayors advocating stronger gun control. South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard noted city leaders could be fined for passing laws that don’t allow firearms in city parks —or City Hall.
“I think it’s important that we raise our voices, that our voices are louder than the gunshots we hear most every day in our community,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said in the video.
One person in attendance Tuesday compared the fight likely to come to that of the early days of the county’s equal rights amendment discussion, which was filled with vitriol and heated debate. The mayor said now, like back then, many elected leaders in support of change are likely to sit quietly in fear of losing constituents and contributions.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored Florida’s controversial 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which allows deadly force in defense of a perceived threat, said Miami-Dade cities should expect “very high scrutiny” if they go along with the Arms With Ethics plan.
“Anything local governments are planning to do need some evaluation in relation to the preemption law,” Baxley said. “I think we made that very clear in the legislation passed.”