County repeals and replaces firearms ordinance

Historic City News was in attendance at the March 15, 2011 meeting, when St. Johns County Commissioner Mark Miner put the county attorney to task identifying county ordinances that once regulated and permitted the registration and carrying of firearms; ordinances, the privilege given and enforcement of which, have been illegal since the late 1980’s.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the St. Johns County Commission, Patrick F. McCormack, County Attorney, introduced, and the commission enacted a new ordinance to bring the county into compliance with Chapter 790, Florida Statutes. Good timing.

State law prohibits local governments and government agencies from adopting any gun control ordinances or regulations; however, there are no penalties currently in the law and there are some, like St. Johns County, who have been in procedural violation ever since.

There will only be two weeks left of Regular Legislation Session when the Legislature returns from the Easter Recess. One bill in Florida, Senate Bill 402, would provide penalties for government officials, local governments and agencies that willfully and knowingly violate the state firearms preemption law.

SB 402 is a bill to STOP local politicians and governments from violating state law by providing penalties for willful violations.

In 1987, the Florida Legislature passed a firearms preemption statute; the Joe Carlucci Uniform Firearms Act (F.S. 790.33).

It was intended to stop local governments from making criminals out of law-abiding citizens just because they simply crossed a city limit or county line. It was intended to provide uniform gun laws so that no matter where in the state you live and no matter where in the state you travel, the same gun laws apply.

The law contains no penalties for violations because no one ever imagined that local elected officials and government workers would willfully and knowingly violate state law.

Tuesday’s new ordinance repeals Ordinance 82-18 pertaining to local firearm permits, as well as prohibits the bearing or possession of weapons in structures owned or operated by St. Johns County or its Board Of County Commissioners; while providing exceptions, penalties and the repeal and replacement of Ordinance 88-1.

The absence of penalties in some parts of Florida has lead to intentional violations and has resulted in subsequent lawsuits to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens. The National Rifle Association tells Historic City News that their attorneys have written letters to local governments informing them that proposed ordinances violate state law. Unfortunately, when their lawyers confirm that the ordinance would be illegal, they usually also explain that there are no penalties for violating the law — consequently, some jurisdictions have arrogantly thumbed their noses at state law and have passed illegal ordinances anyway.

A local attorney is currently suing Lee County for violating the state preemption law.

In the Lee County case, not only did State Representative Paige Kreegel tell them their ordinance was illegal, but then-Attorney General Bill McCollum also told them.

It is clear that some jurisdictions are predisposed to violating the law in the absence of severe penalties. That’s why SB 402 provides felony penalties for those who willfully and knowingly participate in the violation and up to a $5 million dollar fine for the offending entity.

Sound extreme? In 2004, the legislature passed legislation prohibiting any form of gun registration or the compiling of any lists of gun owners or guns. The penalties are identical to those in SB 402; that’s why they’re in this one.

Gun registration schemes, lists and data bases that violated the law suddenly were destroyed. To our knowledge, there have been no intentional violations since that law passed. There have been no prosecutions under that law. It has been the ultimate deterrent. Anyone who has unintentionally violated the law has immediately taken action to come into compliance when notified.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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