Cerabino: Is Florida about to break a 31-year lock on local gun laws?

It started with Joe Carlucci.

The New York transplant spent a decade in Jacksonville city politics before becoming a state legislator.

Carlucci was an avid hunter who became the National Rifle Association’s Legislator of the Year in 1984.

Two years later, at the age of 57, he died of a heart attack while hunting in Georgia.

His colleagues in the Florida Senate marked his passing by naming a bill in his honor, The Joe Carlucci Uniform Firearms Act.

The Joe Carlucci Uniform Firearms Act declared “all ordinances and regulations null and void which have been enacted by any jurisdictions other than state and federal, which regulate firearms, ammunition, or components thereof.”

Its aim was to prohibit all of Florida’s municipal and county lawmakers from passing local gun laws or measures that were more strict than the gun laws enacted by the Florida Legislature.

It got tested in 2000 when the City of South Miami passed an ordinance requiring trigger locks on firearms stored in the city.

Then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth issued an advisory opinion finding that the local trigger-lock laws didn’t violate the spirit of the Joe Carlucci Uniform Firearms Act.

The Carlucci Act “should be construed in view of the state’s purpose which is to preempt local regulations that interfere with an individual’s right to bear arms,” Butterworth wrote. “A requirement that gun owners secure their firearms with a gun lock would not appear to interfere with that right …”

It’s a local law about gun storage, not gun rights, Butterworth reasoned.

The National Rifle Association disagreed and sued the city. After losing in the trial court, the NRA got a favorable ruling from the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which found that the Carlucci Act prevented South Miami from passing any gun laws on its own.

South Miami’s then-Mayor Julio Robaina decried the ruling.

“This just proves the power of politics over the right to protect innocent people,” he said.

But other local jurisdictions, especially in South Florida, continued quietly to enact their own gun regulations in defiance of the Carlucci Act.

For example, Palm Beach County kept its laws that banned guns in county parks and banned the firing of guns in the heavily-populated eastern part of the county. The City of Boca Raton had a no-guns-allowed sign at city hall.

So the NRA took the next step. After the election of Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s lawmakers were about as gun-legislation-friendly as you can get. The gun group pushed for all sorts of goodies in the legislative session of 2011.

That’s when the infamous bill aimed at gagging doctors from explaining the dangers of guns in the home to new parents was passed. It’s also the year the legislature voted to withhold public information on concealed weapons permit holders in Florida.

And to strike fear in the hearts of local government bodies who were violating the Carlucci Act without consequence, the legislature passed draconian penalties for local and county lawmakers.

The revised act imposed a civil fine of $5,000 to any local public official or agency head who willfully and knowingly enacted a local gun law, and it authorized the governor to remove that person from his or her office or job.

It also said those cities or counties could be found liable for up to $100,000 for passing a restrictive gun law.

This put teeth in the Carlucci Act, enough to get Florida’s cities and counties to wipe their local gun restrictions from the books.

But the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland two months ago has made many of those local officials take another hard look at the Carlucci Act and consider the time ripe for rebellion.

Last week, the Leon County Commission in Tallahassee voted 6-1 to pass an ordinance that imposes a three-day waiting period and background checks for some private sales.

Two weeks after the Valentine’s Day shooting, commissioners in Coral Gables unanimously ignored the warnings from their city attorney by voting to ban assault weapons in the city.

“This is more important than us keeping our jobs,” Commisioner Frank Quesada told The Miami Herald. “Could we possibly be one cog or one domino in the process of improving the safety of kids throughout the state of Florida? I think the answer is ‘Yes.’”

But a month later, Coral Gables commissioners reconsidered their votes, and decided instead to join several other South Florida cities in a class-action lawsuit against the act.

The suit is asking a judge to find the penalty provision of the act unconstitutional due to the chilling effect it has on local lawmakers’ ability to address their constituents’ wishes.

And where is Gov. Scott during all this? Mostly holding his tongue.

The law gives Scott the power to act. But he’s not removing local officials from office for their open defiance.

Now that he’s running for U.S. Senate, Scott has moved away from his “A+” NRA rating by signing a gun law after the Parkland shooting that the gun lobby had vigorously opposed.

And it just might be that he’s willing to remain on the sidelines while the Carlucci Act gets hashed out in the courts.

If the Parkland shooting during this election year brings down this 31-year-old gun law, it would break a spell of legislative paralysis that had until recently seemed impossible to surmount.

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