TAMPA — Local government in Florida cannot regulate the sale of guns, be they assault-style rifles or otherwise, the Hillsborough County attorney says.
The same statute that spells that out also likely applies to regulation of large-capacity magazines, County Attorney Chip Fletcher has said in a memo to county commissioners. And Florida law can subject elected officials to financial penalties if they attempt their own regulations.
"Considering this enforcement provision, I would only recommend proceeding with regulation of assault weapons or magazines if there was clear legal authority supporting this decision," Fletcher wrote. "Accordingly, I do not recommend proceeding with County action."
Fletcher's memo was written in response to a request Wednesday from Commissioner Les Miller. He had asked the attorney's office to look into whether the county could ban sales of assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines as elected officials nationally grapple with how to curb gun violence. "It is what it is," Miller said Monday. "He's answered the question and so we move on."
Miller had also asked whether the county could mandate universal criminal background checks on people purchasing guns. The answer to that question is yes, and Hillsborough County already does.
As the Tampa Bay Times reported Sunday, Hillsborough's law and those of other governments that have passed similar ordinances are seldom enforced.
Miller's request came in the context of fellow Democratic Commissioner Kevin Beckner winning support for the county to hire consultants to coordinate study of ways to cut down on violence. Beckner expressed concern that Miller's proposal would confuse the issue and make it look as though the county was seeking to regulate gun sales.
Emails received by Beckner since indicate that some people have intertwined the proposals. Beckner also has received some criticism from people who say the county should not spend $150,000 on consultants.
Beckner issued a statement Monday to address the confusion: "It is important to note that these two issues are separate from one another." He noted that the main consultant to be hired for the violence study, the California-based Prevention Institute, has worked with 18 other local governments.
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.