Florida will appeal a circuit judge’s ruling that struck down a state law threatening tough penalties for local officials and governments that approve gun regulations.
Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a notice late Tuesday that the state will appeal the ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who found last week that the 2011 law threatening the penalties was unconstitutional.
Asked for a comment Wednesday, Moody’s office released a copy of the notice of appeal, which puts a hold on Dodson’s ruling. Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, blasted the decision to appeal.
Fried called the threatened punishments for passing gun regulations “some of the most extreme anywhere in the nation.”
“Our state shouldn’t threaten local elected mayors and council members with fines, lawsuits, and removal from office,” Fried said in a prepared statement. “We should restore local democracy and allow communities to consider common-sense local measures that reflect their values.”
Fried, whose Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services handles concealed-weapons licensing in the state, added that the appeal “is not only a waste of taxpayer money and time, but the wrong direction for our state.”
The lawsuit was filed in April 2018, after the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people and injured 17 others. The school shooting led to widespread calls for gun-control measures, including calls for cities and counties to act.
Florida since 1987 has had what is known as a “preemption” law that prevents local governments from passing gun regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws. In 2011, lawmakers passed another measure that included a series of steps designed to prevent local governments and officials from violating the 1987 law, including imposing penalties of up to $5,000 against officials and potential removal from office.
The law also allowed individuals and groups that successfully challenged local governments over gun regulations to receive damages up to $100,000 and attorney fees.
During arguments last month before Dodson, Daniel Bell, an attorney for the state, said the law prevented a “potential patchwork regulatory scheme” of gun restrictions across Florida.
In his ruling issued late Friday, Dodson found that the 2011 law was unconstitutional, but he did not strike down the underlying 1987 law.
Moody’s move to appeal Dodson’s ruling to the Tallahassee-based 1st District Court of Appeal was not a surprise. But a group of local officials in recent days had urged Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis not to appeal.
The law was challenged by more than 30 local governments, mostly South Florida cities, but also including Orlando, Gainesville and Tallahassee, and Miami-Dade, Broward and Leon counties.
Jamie Cole, the lead attorney for the local governments, said Wednesday he expects Dodson’s ruling to be upheld on appeal.
“Judge Dodson’s decision was well-reasoned, well-written and supported by decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida Supreme Court and Florida’s district courts of appeal,” Cole said in a statement.
-- This story was written by Jim Turner