South Florida Mayor To Move Forward With Gun Control Measures After Circuit Court Ruling

Aug 2, 2019

Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer plans to introduce an ordinance this month banning guns from public facilities in his Broward County city. Thanks to a recent court ruling, Stermer can put his proposal on the city commisson's agenda without being subject to a fine or getting thrown out of office.

A 1987 state law banned cities and counties across the state from passing local gun regulations. In 2011, further penalties backed by the NRA made it so that local leaders who attempt to pass gun regulations can be charged a $5,000 fine or be removed from office.

Stermer and dozens of public officials sued to change the law after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Last week, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson ruled parts the 2011 law unconstitutional, opening the door for Florida’s mayors to make new rules, at least for now.

On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross spoke with Mayor Stermer, who was the lead plaintiff in the case against Governor DeSantis. DeSantis plans to appeal the ruling.

An excerpt from the conversation follows. 

The Florida Roundup: While the stay is in place, the fines and the possibility of expulsion from office remain. Is that going to deter you from bringing gun control measures up for your fellow counselors?

Stermer: It won't deter me. I have prepared an ordinance last year and I'm prepared to bring forth another one. 

Let's be clear: The preemption that came into place in 1987 remains. This lawsuit was about the penalties in 2011 that came in. So regardless of what the decision is in the appellate court regarding these penalties, the underlying preemption stays in place.

Now, I'm opposed to that preemption and want to get to it. But this is at the moment a very narrow issue that really doesn't have anything to do with guns. This has to do with penalties that can be imposed upon elected officials who venture into the area of guns.  

This will be appealed, but for now at least, the potential of fines and expulsion over gun control legislation is no longer a threat to local governments. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit primarily came from South Florida. How do you expect other cities and counties around the state to respond to this ruling?

I expect this all to be in the same place. When we started this lawsuit last April one of the things we specifically did was reach out. I personally reached out to every mayor across the state and asked them to join us. And we have mayors from north, south, east, and west Florida. That way, it wasn't just a South Florida issue. Whether it's mayors in the Panhandle, whether it's former Mayor Gillum, whether it's folks in or in the Orlando area, we have statewide consensus.

Again, this penalty provision was the only place in Florida law [where] personal penalties, in a preemption situation, exist for local officials. Why is this issue, guns, so important that people are putting so much effort into penalizing elected officials for taking a stand to do something in their community? When the governor and the legislature preempt us on many issues and those same penalties don't exist, why is this actually different?

You said you feel mayors are speaking with one voice across the state in Florida. That said, city leaders of dense urban areas often have a different take about gun legislation and their role in ensuring public safety than leaders in less populated areas. There is a real divide between urban and rural parts of the state on this issue. What are your thoughts about that as the mayor of ... a dense urban part of the state?

My city is 70,000 people and ... I'm on the edge of the Everglades. But, I'm surrounded by the town of Davie and the town of Southwest Ranches, which are rural in nature. So understand that's why I say this issue isn't about getting to guns.

This is about the penalty provision if we want to get to the underlying preemption. I'm a believer that every community should have the right to decide what's good for that community. Because as you said, north Florida, central Florida where homes are larger, more separated, believe differently in firearms and their communities accept them differently than we do.

I'm not saying the person who lives next to me might not have an arsenal in their home and that's their right to do so, but whether they should be allowed to go in their backyard and shoot at a range in the backyard in a city of 70,000 compared to a city of a few thousand in rural Florida are different natures.