Florida Municipalities Claim that State Is Violating Their First Amendment Rights via Gun Laws
Florida municipalities are joining forces in suing the state of Florida, claiming that the state has violated their free speech rights by barring them from passing their own local gun laws that would supersede state laws.
As of now, if local officials enact a gun ordinance that in any way conflicts with state-established gun-free zones, high-capacity magazine bans, and informational signs in facilities and parks, they can be fined up to $5,000 and potentially removed from office.
The Plaintiffs & Case
The municipalities—now up to two dozen—argue that these fines and penalties violate their free speech rights. Thus far, they include Boca Raton, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Key Biscayne, Lauderhill, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens, Miramar, Maitland, North Miami, Orlando, Pinecrest, Pompano Beach, South Miami, Surfside, St. Petersburg, and Tallahassee. Although the state has not technically enforced these laws against local municipalities, gun rights groups are still concerned about the law being on the books, and thus preemptively trying to address it.
In the case at hand, the plaintiff municipalities argue that the punitive provisions (or penalties) set forth by the Florida legislature in 2011 had a “chilling” effect, blocking localities from passing and enforcing their own ordinances in order to reduce the likelihood of gun violence in their communities. Specifically, they argue that these punitive provisions threaten to punish elected local officials and their cities for what are essentially legislative acts, such as voting in favor of an ordinance. They also claim that there is a “vagueness” about the provisions and the Firearms Preemption Law. In other words, because the language is vague, elected officials cannot tell whether they will be subject to penalties via their actions.
Do Governments Have Free Speech Rights?
Whether or not government entities have free speech rights has not technically been settled in the courts. Lower courts are split on the issue. While many would argue that local governments have no First Amendment rights against state governments because the state is entitled to control its subdivisions, the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution has been read as providing states with rights against the federal government when it comes to taking property. In addition, courts have decided that a state’s specialty license plate design constitutes government speech, and these designs implicate the free speech rights of private parties.
Florida Civil Rights & Criminal Defense Attorney
At the Baez Law Firm, we represent Florida parties standing up for their free speech rights. If you are seeking legal representation on a civil rights issue, or potentially facing criminal repercussions for standing up for your constitutional rights, contact us today to find out how we can help.