Florida can punish local officials for restricting guns, top state court rules

FILE PHOTO: Gun control advocates hold nationwide protests against gun violence in Parkland

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - Florida can punish local governments and officials that try to pass gun restrictions that are tougher than state laws, Florida's top court affirmed on Thursday.

The Florida Supreme Court, by a 4-1 margin, rejected local officials' argument that they were immune to the penalties, which the court found were within the state's power to impose.

Florida in 1987 passed a law stating that state gun control law preempts, or overrides, any local gun control measures. The local governments' lawsuit did not challenge that law, but only the state's ability to impose penalties.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody called the ruling a "big win" on Twitter and said the state's attorneys had "fought hard to make sure local governments can't trample on" Floridians' gun rights.

"Naturally, we're disappointed by the decision, because we believe it sets a dangerous precedent for hometown democracy in Florida," said Edward Guedes, a lawyer representing the three counties and dozens of municipalities and local officials challenging the law.

The dispute goes back to 2018, when local government entities including Miami Beach wanted to restrict firearms from government facilities and ban sales of large-capacity detachable magazines, among other gun control measures. The lawsuit came in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.

The local governments and officials sued the state to challenge a 2011 state law that authorizes the state to penalize local leaders for passing gun control measures that are subsequently struck down by courts for conflicting with state law.

The penalties included $5,000 fines for officials and allowed people harmed by an unlawful ordinance to sue the local government for up to $100,000 in damages.

A trial court ruled in favor of the local officials, but the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the 2011 law in 2021. The state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last June.

Thursday's decision comes amid heightened attention to gun control in the United States, after the U.S. Supreme Court expanded gun rights last June.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Josie Kao)