Appeals Court Backs Gun-Rights Group In Broward Dispute
TALLAHASSEE --- Pointing to a state law that bars local governments from regulating firearms, an appeals court Wednesday rejected Broward County ordinances that sought to prevent people from carrying weapons at airports and in taxis.
A sharply divided three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal sided with the gun-rights group Florida Carry, which challenged the ordinances in 2014.
The Legislature in 1987 passed a law that established the state sets firearms regulations, preventing cities and counties from passing gun measures --- a concept known as pre-empting the authority of local governments.
The Broward County measures, in part, barred people from carrying weapons at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and North Perry Airport and also said taxi drivers could not carry weapons, according to Wednesday’s ruling. The ordinances used the word “weapon” or “weapons,” not firearms, and also included wording that said the “prohibition shall not be applicable to the extent preempted” by state law.
Florida Carry contended that the ordinances violated the 1987 law, and the majority of the appeals court upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that “found the ordinances were firearm regulations and thus statutorily preempted.”
The majority ruled the ordinances were not made legitimate because of the wording that said the “prohibition shall not be applicable to the extent preempted” by state law.
“(It) does not change the fact that Broward County is still regulating firearms,” Chief Judge Spencer Levine wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Edward Artau. “The ordinances regulate weapons, which include guns. Broward County’s own ordinance does not define guns at all, leaving us to define the ordinance by the plain and ordinary use of language. Broward County could have defined guns as being just tasers, stun guns, or BB guns but chose not to. Because guns are synonymously defined as firearms, the challenged ordinances regulate firearms.”
But Judge Robert Gross wrote a stinging dissent that said Broward County argued that the ordinances apply to such things as stun guns and spear guns, not firearms.
“The majority relies heavily on the fact that the county ordinance definition of a ‘weapon’ includes ‘guns’ within it,” Gross wrote. “But the definition section cannot be read in a vacuum, without the limiting language … which expressly limits the reach of the ordinances before they impinge on ‘firearms’ or ‘ammunition.’ As the county argues, the ordinances apply only to ‘guns’ that are not ‘firearms,’ such as spear guns or stun guns.”
The ruling by the South Florida appeals court came as a Tallahassee-based appeals court weighs a separate case stemming from a 2011 law that threatens stiff penalties for city and county officials who approve gun regulations that go beyond what is allowed by the state.
Numerous local governments challenged the constitutionality of the 2011 law after the mass shooting in February 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. They contend, in part, that the threatened penalties have had a “chilling effect” on their ability to approve ordinances aimed at reducing gun violence.
The case does not challenge the underlying 1987 law that gives the state authority on gun regulations. A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal heard arguments in the case in July but has not issued a ruling.