The Phoenix Flyer

Nikki Fried, gun lobbyist Hammer rumble over appeal of state’s curb on local restrictions

By: - December 27, 2019 2:24 pm

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried. Credit: CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix

The NRA and the lone Democrat on the Florida Cabinet are trading barbs over a state law that sanctions local government officials who try to impose gun restrictions.

Marion Hammer, the state’s top gun lobbyist, issued an alert to NRA members accusing Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried of “self-important arrogance” for filing a brief supporting local officials in a constitutional challenge to the law in question.

“Comm. Nikki Fried and every one of these local officials in the 30 cities and counties who are begging not to be held accountable, took an oath of office and SWORE to uphold THE LAW and the Constitution,” Hammer wrote (all-caps in the original).

“Now they want to disregard their oath of office – they want to break the law whenever they feel like it and don’t want to suffer the consequences,” she continued. “These anti-gun local government officials are being cheered on by the most anti-gun Commissioner of Agriculture in over 40 years – maybe ever!”

Fried, in a press release issued Thursday, stood her ground.

“I made a promise during my campaign that the NRA would have no influence over me or our department. I stand behind that promise,” Fried said. [T]he NRA can attack me all they want. They can’t stop me from fighting to keep Florida’s families safe from gun violence.”

At issue is a 2011 state law imposing $5,000 fines on local officials who “knowingly and willingly” vote for ordinances restricting access to guns that are more stringent than state law. The law also provides for these officials’ removal by the governor. A Leon County judge struck down the law as unconstitutional in late July. The matter is now before the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal.

According to legal arguments filed on Fried’s behalf, the Florida Constitution shields local officials from legal sanction for actions they take in pursuit of the public good.

“Without immunity from liability, officials would be tempted to vote for what is safest for them personally, rather than what is best for their community,” the brief says.

Additionally, “courts may not require a legislator’s presence before the court to explain why they voted a particular way or to describe their process of gathering information on a bill.” Furthermore, “[B]ecause this immunity springs from the constitutional separation of powers, it cannot be abrogated by the Legislature.”

Fried, whose office oversees issuance of concealed-gun permits, noted that she has asked Attorney General Ashley Moody to remove her office from the appeal.

“As I’ve said before, our state shouldn’t be threatening local elected mayors and council members with fines and lawsuits just for doing their jobs,” Fried said in her press release.

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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.