Court rejects lawsuit over local gun ordinance
By Jim Saunders
The News Service of Florida
An appeals court last Friday rejected a lawsuit filed by gun-rights groups that challenged the city of Tallahassee over decades-old firearms ordinances that conflict with state law.
A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 25-page ruling, said the ordinances, while still on the books, are “null and void” because of the state law and that the city has not sought to enforce them.
It upheld a decision by a Leon County circuit judge who turned down arguments by the groups Florida Carry, Inc. and The Second Amendment Foundation, Inc. that the city should be required to repeal the ordinances and should be blocked from enforcing them.
“While appellants’ (the gun-rights groups’) frustration with the city’s inaction and the individual appellees’ (city officials’) unwillingness to engage in what some might describe as a simple task of repealing void ordinances is understandable, (state law), as it currently stands, does not prohibit the re-publication or re-printing of the void ordinances,” said the ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Joseph Lewis and joined by judges Ross Bilbrey and Thomas Winokur. “… The fact that appellees refused to remove the ordinances from the city’s code does not constitute prohibited conduct under the statute.”
In the ruling, however, the appeals court also agreed with the circuit judge’s dismissal of arguments by city officials that state law violates their constitutional rights by subjecting them to stiff penalties if they pass or enforce local firearms regulations.
“Had this been a situation where (city officials) were penalized through a fine, denied the use of public funds for their legal defense, or removed from office by the governor, the counterclaim would certainly need to be addressed,” the appeals court ruled. “However, not only was there no violation of (state law) that has occurred in this case, but there were also no penalties imposed. As such, no bona fide, actual, present, and practical need exists for the declaration sought by (the city officials).”
The dispute stems, in part, from a 1957 Tallahassee ordinance that said, “No person shall discharge any firearms except in areas five acres or larger zoned for agricultural uses” and a 1984 ordinance that made it illegal to discharge guns in parks or recreational facilities owned or operated by the city, according to Friday’s ruling.
In 1987, the Legislature approved a law that gave the state exclusive power to regulate firearms and ammunition and declared “null and void” any local ordinances or regulations — a legal concept known as state “preemption.”
The Legislature followed up in 2011 by amending the law to allow potentially far-reaching penalties against local officials for enacting or enforcing firearms regulations. The Tallahassee police chief advised officers on June 30, 2011, that the city ordinances were unenforceable, according to Friday’s ruling.
But later, the Tallahassee City Commission indefinitely tabled discussion of repealing the ordinances — effectively leaving them on the books.