In Miami Beach, Mayor Dan Gelber wants to keep guns out of City Hall. In Miramar, Mayor Wayne Messam wants a new 5,000-seat amphitheater to be a gun-free venue. In Coral Gables, Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli wants to block the sale of military-style rifles within city limits.
Those ordinances are not only banned by Florida’s statewide protection of gun rights, but each mayor could face a $5,000 fine and removal from office if he tried to enact any sort of municipal gun regulation. On Monday, the mayors joined six others as named plaintiffs in a suit against Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials in an effort to strike down the 2011 law containing Florida’s uniquely harsh penalties for local gun regulations.
“It is the job of local government to make sure residents are safe,” Gelber said during a press conference in Weston announcing the lawsuit. “At my own City Hall, someone can walk in with a concealed weapon and there is legally nothing I can do about it. Nothing.”
The lawsuit represents the most concerted effort yet to overturn the 2011 law backed by the National Rifle Association and signed by Scott that created a unique set of sanctions for Florida’s longstanding rule against local governments going further than Tallahassee in regulating firearms. The law drew national attention — and renewed local scorn — following the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland by a lone gunman with a military-style AR-15 rifle.
“We get phone calls every day: What are you going to do about it? It happened in Parkland. It could happen in Miramar,” said Messam.
Proponents of the state law argue it merely forced local governments to stop ignoring state legislation from the 1980s that added gun control to a long list of law-making authority that Tallahassee legislators reserved for the state — from accident clean-ups to Uber. Adding the sanctions in 2011 made Florida the toughest state in the nation when it comes to regulating local gun rules, and it forced cities like Miami Gardens to stop enforcing municipal laws banning guns from local parks.
Requests for comment from the NRA and Florida Carry, a statewide gun-rights group, were not immediately returned Monday. The governor’s office said of the lawsuit: “We’re reviewing it.”
Miami Gardens joined the lawsuit being managed by Weston’s city attorney, Jamie Cole. The suit, Weston v. Scott, also lists as plaintiffs: Pompano Beach, Pinecrest, South Miami, Cutler Bay and Lauderhill. Cole said more cities are considering joining as plaintiffs, and that there is at least one other suit, led by Coral Springs, being readied with a similar strategy.
Filed in Circuit Court in Leon County, the home to Florida’s state government in Tallahassee, the suit argues the 2011 sanctions overstep restrictions on a governor’s limited ability to remove a local elected official from office. The suit also claims the state law violates state rules protecting a municipal government’s authority to enact laws without fear of legal penalties against local lawmakers. More broadly, the suit calls Florida’s restraints an unconstitutional restriction of local democracy — including the responsibility of a city’s elected officials to respond to constituents petitioning for local action after the Parkland massacre.
“This violates our First Amendment rights,” Weston City Commissioner Toby Feuer said of the state law.
The city of Tallahassee has already failed to get the state law knocked down in litigation against that city’s dormant law against firing guns in municipal parks. Opponents of the 2011 law scored a narrow win in 2014 when a Leon County judge ruled Florida’s Constitution trumped the 2011 law by reserving to the state Senate the power to remove county officials. It did not address a governor’s ability to remove a city official for enacting a local gun regulation.
The Weston suit cited the threat of removal against Valdés-Fauli and other members of the Coral Gables City Council over a brief pursuit of a citywide ban on stores selling military-style rifles, including the AR-15. Valdés-Fauli won unanimous council support for the ban in a preliminary vote, only to see it narrowly voted down March 20 after the city attorney warned of severe financial consequences under the 2011 state law. That included a provision making it easier for Coral Gables to be sued for legal costs from any lawyer with a client expressing an interest in applying for the kind of gun-sale permit to be banned by the city law.
Valdés-Fauli still voted for it, saying he thought actually enacting a banned gun regulation would help his city’s legal case against the 2011 law. “I believe in civil disobedience when the laws are unjust,” he said.