Democrat Fried and local control over gun laws: ‘We should be talking about how to save lives’

By: - June 9, 2022 8:00 am

Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, urges tighter gun laws during a news conference in Orlando on June 8, 2022. Source: Screenshot department Facebook feed.

One day before the Florida Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a major gun-control lawsuit, Commissioner of Agriculture and Community Services Nikki Fried urged Floridians not to give way to cynicism over barriers to reducing gun violence.

A positive ruling by the state’s highest court could mean “giving the power to our local governments to make up for the failures of what is happening in Tallahassee,” Fried said Wednesday during an Orlando news conference.

Local ordinances could include expanded background checks and red-flag laws, including for ammunition purposes; banning large-capacity magazines, and “keeping assault rifles off of our streets,” said Fried, a Democrat, an attorney and an elected Florida Cabinet member.

“We should be talking about how to save lives and how to prevent active shooting terrorism. Instead, the state is working to punish local governments for taking the steps on gun violence. This is completely backwards,” she said.

Oral arguments

The Supreme Court has set oral arguments for 9 a.m. Thursday in City of Weston v. Florida, testing a state law opening local leaders to personal liability if they enact gun restrictions alleged to be more restrictive than state law.

Supreme Court of Florida. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

The case arose from a 1987 state law reserving to the Legislature all authority to regulate firearms. In 2011, the Legislature added language, sponsored by then state Rep. Matt Gaetz, now a congressman from the western Panhandle, allowing lawsuits against local governments and officials for defying the law.

The statute threatens personal liability of up to $5,000 for officials and the local government for up to $100,000. Additionally, the governor could remove violators from office.

The city of Tallahassee attracted such a lawsuit over decades-old ordinances regulating the discharge of firearms within city limits. According to a report by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, the city prevailed at trial and on appeal on the ground that officials weren’t enforcing the ordinances.

But with the daily headlines full of one mass shooting after another — and hostility from Republicans including Gov. Ron DeSantis to tightening gun regulations — local officials are eager to do what they can to prevent gun injuries and death.

(Fried is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge DeSantis for reelection in November.)

Challengers to the law include a coalition of local governments and officials. Fried, whose office regulates concealed weapons permits and was an original defendant, later joined the plaintiffs in the case before the Supreme Court.

Individual liability

House Democrat Dan Daley of Broward County attended Fried’s news conference. He noted that he is an alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a gunman killed 17 students and staff members on Feb. 14, 2018.

Dan Daley
Dan Daley. Source: Florida House

Daley recalled that shooting survivor David Hogg urged him, then a member of the Coral Springs city commission, to do something about gun violence.

“We’re not allowed,” Daley said he told Hogg at the time.

“And not only are we not allowed, but we can face individual lawsuits in our individual civilian capacity; we can face removal from office by the governor and civil fines in addition to a number of other things that can be done.”

Still, Daley said, he and other city officials began discussing what they could do to overturn the law.

“We knew the risk and we decided to move forward anyway,” he said.

“The preemption on guns and ammunition in this state is bad enough. But the egregious penalty provisions that were added in 2011 by then-state Rep. Matt Gaetz are downright unconstitutional and dangerous,” Daley said.

“You have duly elected officials across this state who have been charged with keeping their communities safe and they’re unable to do so in the wake of gun violence every single day.

“These aren’t the bad guys; these aren’t public enemy No. 1. And in the face of a Legislature who did nothing after the Pulse shooting and who did the bare minimum in the wake of the shooting at my alma mater, we need local elected officials able to step up and keep their communities safe.”

Saturday march

Fried urged people to attend March for our Lives activities scheduled for Saturday in Washington, D.C., and cities around the state and nation. The next day, Sunday, is the sixth anniversary of Orlando’s Pulse massacre, in which a gunman murdered 49 people with a high-capacity, assault-style firearms.

“Every community is different. Every community has different issues. Every community has different demographics. That’s why it’s so important to let the locals decide what is best for them,” Fried said.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.

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