Palm Beach County cities frustrated they can’t pass gun control laws

A state law that bans local government from enacting gun-control measures has prompted officials to take the next best step — lobby for reform.

In the wake of the Feb. 14 deadly rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, four Palm Beach County municipalities have passed resolutions calling on state and federal lawmakers to strengthen gun laws.

Palm Beach Post coverage of the Stoneman Feb. 14 shooting

The resolutions all are similar in that they urge officials to require background checks for all firearm sales, support “Red Flag Laws” which allows police to take guns from people who show signs of violence, and hike the legal age to buy an assault weapon from 18 to 21.

Delray Beach and Boynton Beach called for outright bans on “military-style weapons and high capacity magazines,” like the ones used in the Parkland shooting that killed 14 children and three adults.

West Palm Beach and Boca Raton passed more watered-down resolutions. West Palm wants to keep military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines away from schools and restrict the sale of assault weapons. Boca wants to enact “reasonable gun legislation,” the resolution reads.

Hands are tied

In reality, cities are barred from doing much more than lobbying for these changes.

A 2011 Florida statute prohibits local government from passing laws on when or where guns can be sold or carried. Mayors, council members and commissioners face a $5,000 personal fine and removal from office by the governor if they pass and enforce gun and ammunition laws.

So many Palm Beach County cities are pushing to end that restriction.

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There’s safety in numbers, said Delray Commissioner Mitch Katz. He suggested cities protest en masse by passing local gun-control laws at the same time.

“If 40, 50 or 100 cities pass some sensible laws, I’d like to see the governor remove all of us,” Katz said.

Delray Mayor Cary Glickstein, a Democrat who spoke at a Delray Beach rally for gun reform shortly after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, called the law “ridiculous.” He urged the commission to join the Broward County city of Weston in a lawsuit that challenges the Florida statute.

While Palm Beach Gardens didn’t vote on a resolution, the city’s elected officials voiced frustrations.

Palm Beach Gardens Councilwoman Rachelle Litt said the restriction is an example of the state’s attack on home rule — a provision of Florida’s Constitution that gives local government the power to pass laws as long as they don’t conflict with state law.

Litt, a first-term councilwoman, had no clue a gun show was planned in her city just days after the Parkland rampage until she received a Palm Beach Post news alert.

And, more frustratingly, she couldn’t have stopped it if she did know, she said.

‘A strong message’

Each with their differing resolutions, Palm Beach County cities are joining a wave of activism to support stronger gun laws.

West Palm Beach passed a resolution Feb. 26 that calls on officials to:

  • Require a background check for every firearm sale.
  • Support “Red Flag Law.”
  • Raise the legal age to buy guns, magazines and ammunition to 21.
  • Keep military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines away from schools and restrict the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

“The City of West Palm Beach is an advocate for common-sense policies that keep guns out of dangerous hands while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. The City believes implementation of these polices could reduce gun violence and help prevent future shootings,” the resolution reads.

The Lantana-area woman who took in the Parkland school shooter

Boynton Beach’s elected officials Tuesday night approved a similar resolution.

“Federal and state leaders continue to fail to act to implement sensible gun law reforms that are supported by a majority of the nation,” the resolution reads.

Boynton also called for a ban on AR-15s, the weapon used by 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz in the Parkland school shooting; ban or limit access to guns for people convicted of hate crimes or domestic abuse; and allow the state attorney general to deny a gun sale to anyone if he or she has a “reasonable belief” that the buyer is likely to “engage in terrorism,” among other provisions.

“I think it sends a strong message out there,” Commissioner Joe Casello said. He also said “it’s sad” that Boynton can’t make their own rules.

RELATED: Gov. Scott signs compromise gun control bill

Vice Mayor Justin Katz doesn’t think cities should be able to make their own rules, however. He thinks gun laws should be made by only the state and federal officials because there could be too many discrepancies between cities.

“But if municipalities are doing it, unless you get every municipality in the state to do it, it doesn’t serve a purpose because if I’m inclined to buy weapons I could just go across city lines to do it,” he said.

Mayor Steven Grant called for the state and federal officials to “step up.” Commissioner Christina Romelus, an adjunct professor at Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth campus, said those leaders need to be held accountable. She said she now finds herself double and triple checking the classroom door’s lock.

Boca Raton, the site of a massive demonstration a week after the Parkland shooting, passed a resolution encouraging state and U.S. lawmakers to enact “reasonable gun legislation,” enhance mental health programs and bankroll security enhancements. More than 1,000 students marched on City Hall calling for stricter gun laws and safer schools.

The city responded with a resolution at the very next meeting.

“The children that marched here said, ‘Never again,’ ” Mayor Susan Haynie said. “We are here to say, ‘Never again.’ ”

Staff writers Tony Doris, Sarah Peters and Kristina Webb contributed to this story.

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