Court strikes down penalties for local officials who pass tougher gun restrictions

Thirty municipalities and three counties sued the state over the 2011 law. It allowed local officials who voted for gun restrictions tougher than those allowed by the state to be sued, fined and potentially removed from office. (Joe Cereghino / CC BY 2.0)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A judge in the state Capitol has ruled local government officials can’t be held personally liable for voting for stricter gun laws, even though the state has preempted most gun regulations to the state. The NRA is crying foul.

Thirty municipalities and three counties sued the state over the 2011 law. It allowed local officials who voted for gun restrictions tougher than those allowed by the state to be sued, fined and potentially removed from office.

“It’s a great win for local governments and their ability to control some of the things in regards to firearms and a step toward enforcing home rule,” said Assistant Leon County Attorney LaShawn Riggings.

In a 15-page ruling, Judge Charles Dobson found local governments were like little legislatures and immune from court interference.

In an alert to more than half a million members, the NRA said the judge's ruling amounts to a get out of jail free card for local officials.

“By removing penalties for willfully and knowingly violating the law, it's tacit approval to go ahead and violate state law,” said Marion Hammer, with the Unified Sportsmen of Florida.

However, the underlying law remains intact. Only the state can enact gun regulations, but now there are no penalties for local governments violating the law.

The law will still allow a private citizen to sue a local government if they feel like their rights have been taken away, but the NRA said that could prove costly.

“Taxpayers have to be wealthy to defend their rights and bring a suit against a bottomless pit of taxpayer dollars,” said Hammer.

Both the Governor’s Office and the Attorney General had asked the court to uphold the law.

The Attorney General’s office said it is evaluating whether or not to appeal the ruling.