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Breaking: SAF, Florida Carry sue Tallahassee over alleged gun law violation

SAF's Alan Gottlieb cannot understand stubborn municipalities, but he can sue them.
SAF's Alan Gottlieb cannot understand stubborn municipalities, but he can sue them.
Dave Workman

The Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation announced earlier today it had joined forces with Florida Carry, Inc., filing a lawsuit against the City of Tallahassee alleging the city has refused to amend a local ordinance that conflicts with the Sunshine State’s preemption law.

It is not the first time SAF has tangled with a municipal government over a gun law that violates a state preemption statute. While it did not result in a lawsuit, SAF’s confrontation with the City of Oak Harbor in early 2013 made headlines across the country, and the city ultimately dropped its resistance to nullifying its years-old ban on guns in parks. SAF was also involved in a legal battle against the City of Seattle that prevented the city from banning legally-carried firearms at city parks and facilities.

This time around, Tallahassee is refusing to amend its ordinance against discharge of firearms and airguns to provide an exemption for use of a gun in self-defense. The current ordinance criminalizes firearms and airgun discharges, without exception or exemption. That doesn’t fly with Sean Caranna, executive director of Florida Carry and a well-known gun rights advocate. The complaint may be read here.

“Usually,” he said via e-mail, “the jurisdiction is responsive to our notification that there is a problem and no lawsuit is necessary. It is a rare and unfortunate circumstance when local government leaders decide to willfully break state law, despite the personal penalties. When local officials are willing to knowingly violate the law in order to suppress the rights of law-abiding gun owners, they can expect that we're going to make them pay for it.”

His group has actively pushed changes in local laws in some 200 Florida jurisdictions. It is the same kind of effort launched on a national scale by SAF two years ago in Virginia and Washington, advising local governments to comply with state preemption laws or face possible legal recourse.

“We’re happy to partner with Florida Carry on this legal action,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb. “This is not the first time we have had to take a city to court for violating a state preemption law. Why municipal governments still don’t understand the concept of preemption is a mystery to us.”

Gottlieb was a key player in the gun rights lawsuit against the City of Seattle more than four years ago that derailed a ban on guns in city park facilities that was adopted as an administrative regulation rather than a city ordinance. He had warned then-Mayor Greg Nickels against pursuing the ban, but Nickels, a founding member of Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun Mayors Against Illegal Guns, pressed his luck.

When Nickels was replaced by Mike McGinn, the lawsuit continued because McGinn, despite being given an opportunity to back away from the parks ban, continued insisting that the city could do it without violating Washington’s model preemption act. The court said otherwise, and an appeals court panel ruled unanimously against the city.

SAF was joined in that lawsuit by the National Rifle Association, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Washington Arms Collectors and five individual plaintiffs. Rather than gut the preemption law, the victory strengthened it. When the city asked for state Supreme Court review, the high court turned the city down.

“We became aware of Tallahassee’s illegal regulation as we looked to expand SAF’s on-going preemption project, which has rolled back dozens of illegal gun regulations in the six states we have targeted so far,” noted SAF General Counsel Miko Tempski.

“Clearly,” Gottlieb said in a prepared statement, “Tallahassee has way over-stepped its authority under state preemption. The Florida Legislature has exclusive domain over firearms regulation. When the law was passed, it nullified all existing, and future, city and county firearm ordinances and regulations.”

Defendants in the case are Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, and City Commissioners Nancy Miller, Andrew Gillum and Gil Ziffer. SAF and Florida Carry are represented by Jacksonville attorneys Lesley McKinney with McKinney, Wilkes & Mee, and Eric J. Friday with Fletcher & Phillips. The lawsuit was filed in the Second Judicial Circuit Court for Leon County.