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Appeals court rejects gun rights group's suit against city of Tallahassee

By John Severance | Mar 14, 2017

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TALLAHASSEE — An appeals court recently handed a victory to the city of Tallahassee, rejecting a suit filed by a pair of guns-rights groups.

The suit challenged the city over ordinances that conflict with state law even though those ordinances were rarely enforced, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

In its 25-page ruling, the 1st District Court of Appeal said the ordinances, even though they are still considered law, are null and void because of the state law and that the city has not tried to enforce them.

The appeals-court judges affirmed the decision of a Leon County circuit judge, who rejected the claims of Florida Carry Inc. and The Second Amendment Foundation Inc. Their lawyers argued that Tallahassee should have to repeal the laws and be blocked from enforcing them.

The ruling was written by Judge Joseph Lewis was affirmed by Judges Ross Bilbrey and Thomas Winokur.

The ruling stated, “While appellants' (the gun-rights groups') frustration with the city's inaction and the individual appellees' (city officials') unwillingness to engage in what some might describe as a simple task of repealing void ordinances is understandable, (state law), as it currently stands, does not prohibit the re-publication or re-printing of the void ordinances ... The fact that appellees refused to remove the ordinances from the city's code does not constitute prohibited conduct under the statute."

The appeals court also gave credence to the circuit judge’s dismissal of the gun group’s charges.

"Had this been a situation where cross-appellants/appellees were penalized through a fine, denied the use of public funds for their legal defense, or removed from office by the governor, the counterclaim would certainly need to be addressed," the appeals court ruled. "However, not only was there no violation of (state law) that has occurred in this case, but there were also no penalties imposed. As such, no bona fide, actual, present, and practical need exists for the declaration sought by cross-appellants/appellees."

The disputes came up from a couple of old ordinances.

One of them in 1957 stipulated that "No person shall discharge any firearms except in areas 5 acres or larger zoned for agricultural uses." The other ordinance went on the books in 1984 and stipulated that it was illegal to discharge guns in recreational facilities and parks that were owned by the city.

In 1987, the Legislature embraced a legal concept called state pre-emption. It approved a law that gave the state the exclusive power to regulate guns and ammunition, and also nullified any local ordinances or regulations.

Then in 2011, the state amended the law, which allowed penalties to be enforced against local officials, who tried to enact firearms rules.

Eventually, the Tallahassee City Commission took up the issue but the motion was indefinitely tabled, which left those laws intact.

In his blog on Medium, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum declared victory over the National Rifle Association.

“Because of this victory, we’ve overcome the law that gun lobbyists have used to bully locally elected officials. That means the next time they come after another community with a lawsuit, precedent will be on our side, and they’ll have to think twice,’’ Gillum wrote.

Florida Carry Inc., meanwhile, is watching several pieces of legislation that deal with concealed weapons and self-defense. The Florida Legislature meets later this month.

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Florida First District Court of Appeal