TALLAHASSEE — A new bill that’s poised to become law is the legislative equivalent of a Rorschach test.
Fans of Florida’s sweeping gun preemption law — which bars municipalities from regulating firearms and ammunition in any way — say the bill, Senate Bill 1844, offers little more than a technical correction. It’s a “glitch bill,” they say.
Those who detest Florida’s gun preemption law say the new bill is a dramatic expansion of an already Draconian state policy.
“I didn’t think it was possible to make this statute worse. And lo and behold, they found a way to do it,” said Rep. Dan Daley, D-Sunrise.
The bill passed the Florida House Wednesday by a vote of 78 to 39. Since it’s already passed the Senate, it will now head to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Currently, Florida law forbids local governments from passing any policies about the “purchase, sale, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession, storage, and transportation” of guns or ammunition. The entire gun policy area is left up to the state. If local officials violate this law by enacting a gun policy, they are subject to a $5,000 court fine — and the law allows citizens or gun groups to sue the local governments for their attorney’s fees up to $100,000 in damages.
SB 1884, which is just two pages long, would change the statute in two ways. If the bill were to become law, even a local government gun policy that is “unwritten” would be grounds for a lawsuit by a citizen or gun rights group. And it would tweak Florida law to discourage local governments from changing their policies in the middle of a lawsuit. If a plaintiff brings a suit against a government, only to see the government change its policy to duck the case, the law could allow the plaintiff to collect attorney’s fees from the government.
Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, the House sponsor of the legislation — and an attorney who specializes in gun rights law — told the Times/Herald he’s been involved in cases where both changes mentioned in his bill would apply.
If a local police department had an informal policy that governed whether a person with a stolen gun could get that gun back in a timely manner, that would constitute an “unwritten” gun policy, Byrd said.
Daley said the “unwritten” part of Byrd’s would go much further than that. Daley said the new law could forbid local governments from even discussing the possibility of a new gun or ammunition policy. This would hamper official efforts to prevent all-too-common gun deaths, Daley said.
Byrd said Daley is incorrect.
“No one is stopping anyone from having conversations,” Byrd said.
The disagreement between Daley and Byrd is symbolic of the larger discussion on Florida gun law. Daley, an attorney and former Coral Springs city commissioner, was an original plaintiff on a lawsuit which challenged the civil penalties in Florida’s preemption law. The First District Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that the statutes Daley sued to change are valid. That lawsuit could soon make its way to the Florida Supreme Court.
On the other side of the debate, Byrd’s law practice works in part to enforce the preemption statute currently on the books.
Byrd’s professional involvement with gun litigation has caused some Democrats to question whether his support for the law represents a conflict of interest. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, asked Byrd on the House Floor Tuesday whether he would be in line for a “windfall” from the bill.
In an interview, Byrd said if his bill were to work as he intended, it would discourage municipalities from passing illegal ordinances. That would be bad for his practice, he said.
“If I wanted to gin up business I would keep the current law in place,” Byrd said.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times Florida Legislature coverage
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news from the state’s legislative session. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.