Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State law sowed confusion over background checks at gun shows

While enforcement of county laws mandating background checks at gun shows never seems to have been zealous, it became even less of a priority in 2011.

That's when the Florida Legislature passed a law that threatened local government officials with removal from office or fines up to $5,000 if they adopted gun laws stronger than state regulations.

The National Rifle Association-backed bill put bite into an existing Florida law that "pre-empted" local governments from challenging the state on gun regulation. It caused a cascade of changes to county firearm laws, as local officials scrambled to make sure they weren't liable.

But according to several attorneys familiar with local and state gun laws, state pre-emption has no effect on county ordinances that close the so-called gun-show loophole.

That's because the 2011 state law contained an exception for local gun ordinances "expressly provided by the state Constitution." Counties' right to require background checks and waiting periods on private gun sales was inserted in the state Constitution through a 1998 amendment approved by Florida voters.

"The Legislature could not override something in the Constitution, much as they would like to sometimes," said Assistant Miami-Dade County Attorney Jess McCarty.

McCarty's reading of state law was seconded by officials in the Hillsborough and Pinellas county attorney's offices, as well as Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is a lawyer.

Nevertheless, many other officials in the seven counties with active background-check ordinances said they believed all county ordinances on gun sales became null and void when the 2011 state law went into effect.

Sheriff's deputies, police officers and even prosecutors interviewed for this story repeatedly cited the state pre-emption law as one reason for their current lack of enforcement of local laws closing the gun-show loophole.

Peter Jamison can be reached at or (727) 445-4157.

State law sowed confusion over background checks at gun shows 04/06/13 [Last modified: Saturday, April 6, 2013 7:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics


    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips


    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.