By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
At its last regular meeting, the County Commission passed an ordinance repealing any and all previous local rules and regulations that might still be on the county books regarding the sale and use of firearms.
Acting on the advice of county attorney Tom Reeves, and in response to a bill passed by the Florida Legislature affirming that the Legislature has the sole authority to regulate firearms, the Commissioners passed the preemptive ordinance to protect the county from any possible lawsuits.
Theoretically, if any local regulation remains on Madison County’s books that could be interpreted as encroaching on state authority, and if an individual felt that such an existing local regulation unfairly restricted his or her right to purchase, own and/or carry firearms, above and beyond what the state had already spelled out, then that person could file a lawsuit against the county.
During a time of tight budgets and hard economic conditions, Reeves advised, a lawsuit would be something the county could ill afford. The preemptive ordinance would prevent that, by rending all the county’s previous firearm-related ordinances null and void. The only other option would be an exhaustive search of the county law books for such regulations and striking them individually, with the possible risk that something might still be overlooked.
Marianne Green addressed the Commission, raising concerns that such an action would hamper the county’s ability to check on roadside firearm purchases, or would not give local law enforcement adequate power to be able to run background checks on potential gun buyers and permit applicants. This was leaving everything to the state, she said. “What if the state isn’t all that careful?”
Reeves assured Green that the State’s action did not affect the county’s ability to enforce state and federal regulations already in place; the county simply cannot add more regulations of its own. Any background checks or other regulations currently authorized by the State of Florida can still be carried out by local law enforcement. Also, the county can still regulate firearms carried by its own law enforcement and other employees. The measure under consideration was simply for the county’s legal and financial protection.
The Commissioners voted unanimously to pass the ordinance.