FLORIDA: Court Rules Public Officials Can’t Be Punished for Violating the Law

A Leon County Circuit Court judge has just given rogue, anti-gun public officials a “get-out-of-jail-free card.”

This court has effectively given tacit approval for local government officials to knowingly and willfully violate the state preemption law by striking down the penalty provisions.  The message is:  go ahead and violate the law, the state can’t punish you.

Specifically, in a lawsuit brought by several anti-gun South Florida cities and counties, the court struck down the $5,000 fine and the risk of removal from office for individual public officials, local governments, and government agencies who willfully and knowing violate the state preemption law by adopting local gun control ordinances.

In their opposition brief, the NRA argued “It is a bedrock principle of American constitutional law that local governments have no legal authority to defy the will of their creator: the state.”

This ruling is like a parent telling an underage teenager, you are forbidden to smoke, drink alcohol, or do drugs — but don’t worry, if you disobey me and do it anyhow, I won’t punish you.

The ruling flies in the face of one of the basic fundamentals of the judicial system. Punishment is the deterrent component of the justice system.  Without punishment, not only will offenders will be encouraged to re-offend but others who had feared punishment will be encouraged to join the lawbreaking activities.

There is little doubt that Attorney General Ashley Moody will appeal the ruling on behalf of the state. There is no enforcement capability of laws that have no punishment.

BACKGROUND:

Florida Statutes section 790.33 is the firearms preemption statute, which prevents local governments from violating Second Amendment rights by passing gun control ordinances.  Under the law, only the Legislature can regulate the field of firearms and ammunition, a constitutionally protected area.

The preemption law was passed in 1987 but contained no penalties. No one anticipated or even imagined the disrespect for the law that some local public officials began to demonstrate.  No one foresaw that local public officials (who had sworn to uphold the law) would knowingly and willfully violate state law because there were no penalties.

In 2011, fed up with these willful violations of law, the legislature amended the statute to create civil penalties for knowingly and willfully violating the preemption law by enacting prohibited firearms or ammunition ordinances/regulation.  The penalties were imposed on the offending governmental entity and on individual public officials.

These penalties are not for accidental, unintentional or inadvertent violation of the law.  They are for KNOWINGLY AND WILLFULLY violating the law.

That any court would condone, and give tacit approval to intentional violations of the law by public officials is not only alarming, it is injurious to the fabric of the deterrent effect of the structure and intent of laws.  It is particularly perilous when it comes to those laws promulgated to shield and protect the public from the actions of imprudent public officials.

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