After a weekend where twenty-nine people were murdered within thirteen hours of each other by mass shootings, a ruling by a Leon County Judge on July 27, 2019, seems quite timely if not a bit foretelling. The ruling invalidated a state law that penalized local government officials of municipalities who chose to pass legislation that required stricter gun regulations compared to the state as a whole. The law imposed fines of up to $5000.00 as well as removal for office for mayors and commissioner who sought tougher regulations.
In the decision, Judge Charles Dodson declared unconstitutional part of a 2011 law that permitted Florida’s governor to remove from office any local official for passing stricter standards than those already in place by the state. Judge Dodson opined that permitting a judge to impose monetary penalties on government officials transferred too much power from one branch of government, the legislative, to another, the judiciary. “He said the prospect of a local lawmaker being sued merely for passing a law would amount to “’impermissible judicial meddling in a purely political matter.’” The judge’s ruling can be found in the case of Weston vs. DeSantis.
This most likely is the starting point of a contentious legal battle on the subject. Governor Ron DeSantis was expected to appeal the decision ultimately to the Florida Supreme Court. However, this was before the events of this past weekend. Yet many believe that if the Parkland shooting could not move the needle in the direction of greater gun control, nothing will. But for the moment, the decision is a victory for gun control groups across the nation as it provides some authority for changes in the law.
It is important to understand that the decision only invalidates sanctions against local officials who seek tougher regulation than those state mandated for gun control. Since the 1980’s laws have been on the books preventing local municipalities from passing ordinances with tighter gun regulations. A 2011 law created specific penalties targeting individual government officials. Judge Dodson’s ruling in no way undermines the overall prohibition against creating tougher laws at the local level than the state. It simply removes the individual sanction component.
Clearly, gun rights holds a special place on the list of issues separating voters. After the weekend, Democratic candidates were quick to blame President Trump and Republicans for their pro NRA stances. While no one can foretell what will happen in the future, the only thing for certain is that many more innocent citizens will die in mass shooting events before the 2020 election.