Free speech, right to privacy collide in NRA suit against state's gun laws, attorney says

By Carrie Bradon | May 21, 2018

TALLAHASSEE – In the legal battle involving the National Rifle Association and Gov. Rick Scott's new gun laws, another complication has transpired that may force the NRA to name two young adults in its lawsuit.

In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee, District Judge Mark Walker ruled May 13 that plaintiffs Jane Doe and John Doe must be identified in the NRA's suit against Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and others.

Shortly after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Scott signed changes to laws regarding school safety and gun access hoping to reduce gun-related crimes in Florida. One of the changes made was that the minimum age to buy rifles and shotguns be raised from 18 to 21.

The NRA was quick to jump at the new legislation, alleging that the changes are in violation of the Second Amendment despite Scott's claims that it balances individual rights and public safety requirements for the state of Florida.

In the wake of the changing law, the NRA filed a lawsuit against Bondi that included two individuals, a 17-year-old woman and 19-year-old man. The suit failed to name them after the two individuals were included in a larger lawsuit against the governor's new gun law. 

Peter Vujin, a Miami-based attorney, commented on the situation and explained that many of the challenges of this situation are closely linked to constitutional rights and personal rights of U.S. citizens.

"This seems to be a conflict between the First Amendment right to free speech of the people and the right to privacy," Vujin told the Florida Record. "Essentially, as a matter of law, Jane Doe chose to become a 'public figure' when she decided to sue. Since the right to free speech is a condition-precedent to democracy, courts have traditionally, in most instances, given much more protection to it than to the right to privacy, especially in matters of public concerns, like this particular lawsuit."

Vujin noted that no court has held the same about the Second Amendment, or the rights it confers for that matter, which is a point that U.S. District Judge Mark Walker also noted in the May 13 ruling.

The NRA claims that the reason they are apprehensive to disclosing the names of the two young plaintiffs is that they fear revealing their identites will result in harassment and hate speech, a fact which Walker was sympathetic to but not able to condone, ruling that the NRA must use the plaintiffs' full names.

Walker specifically noted that he would agree to leaving the plaintiffs' names anonymous but for the fact that numerous other courts had already ruled against it, thus leaving him powerless to affect the requested change from the NRA. 

Walker's ruling in the case, NRA v. Bondi, stated that harassment is indeed a matter of grave concern, especially following the Parkland shooting and the negative statements that the survivors of the incident were victims to.

While the Bill of Rights and Constitution are incredibly important in terms of personal rights, Vujin said, these documents most commonly are needed as a protection from the government, government officials and contractors, all of which are imperative to have in a system of democracy. But the system is not perfect and this protection against government officials leaves a great deal of opportunity for ordinary individuals to lash out against others who have differing beliefs.

"That leaves the people free to comment on issues as they may please, in line with our free speech right," Vujin said. "Unfortunately, many people seem to take fair criticism, or for that matter political statements that they dislike, as a personal affront, so they retaliate. Yet, the people do not seem to embody the spirit of the Constitution very much in this respect – hence, they are known to maliciously persecute people who express opinions deemed unpopular."

The Florida Record contacted Scott's office for comment on the case and was referred to the Attorney General's Office, which stated, "As this litigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment at this time."

The NRA did not respond to the Florida Record's requests for comment.

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Organizations in this Story

Florida Executive Office of The Governor Florida Office of the Attorney General National Rifle Association of America Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA)

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