Anti-Gun Activist Gets Firearm Preemption Laws All Wrong

The fight over local gun control laws in the state of Florida has taken place in city council chambers, courtrooms, and the state capitol in recent years as lawmakers sought to put some teeth behind a state statute that prohibits local governments from passing their own anti-gun legislation. Gun control advocates fought the measure, which allows elected officials to be fined and even removed from office for violating the state’s firearms preemption laws, filing a lawsuit that challenges the new statute, but they’re also taking the fight to the court of public opinion.

March for Our Lives’ Gowri Abhinanda argues in a new op/ed in the Orlando Sentinel for an end to the state’s preemption law, but her piece is long on “wokeness” and awfully short on actual facts.

We are living in unprecedented times. We’ve found ourselves amid a global pandemic that has exacerbated historical disparities in our state while witnessing a movement for racial justice that demands we dismantle those same inequities.

And in this chaos, state “leaders” have taken this opportunity to strengthen restrictive laws that prevent local officials from implementing gun-violence prevention policies unique to their communities, costing lives. In all of these events, we see systemic violence perpetuated by the state that disproportionately impacts marginalized communities — all for their bargain to protect corporate profits, mocking the lives lost to this epidemic.

What exactly are the prohibitions placed on local governments under Florida’s preemption law? According to state statute:

Except as expressly provided by the State Constitution or general law, the Legislature hereby declares that it is occupying the whole field of regulation of firearms and ammunition, including the purchase, sale, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession, storage, and transportation thereof, to the exclusion of all existing and future county, city, town, or municipal ordinances or any administrative regulations or rules adopted by local or state government relating thereto.

This law isn’t new, by the way, despite Abhinanda’s claims. Firearms preemption was first passed in the state back in 1987, and the law allowing for sanctions against local officials who violate the preemption law was approved by lawmakers back in 2011.  Two years ago, well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and protests over policing and criminal justice swept over the country, officials in ten Florida cities challenged the law, and the case has been making its way through the courts ever since (it’s currently before a state appeals court).

Preemption is nothing new, but gun control activists like Abhinanda are desperate to see the law overturned so they can begin their push for all kinds of local gun control ordinances. Oddly enough, however, even as Abhinanda pushes for more local laws, she and other activists argue against many existing public safety policies.

For years the gun lobby has called the shots, barring local powers that know their communities best from enacting life-saving legislation, even as we fear the increase of suicide attempts, domestic violence incidents, and homicides during the pandemic. In our schools, police with their domineering guns patrol our campuses due to state preemption, fueling the school-to-prison pipeline, the criminalization of kids for just being kids. Even as Floridians demand common-sense legislation and research indicates stricter gun laws increase local safety, the gun lobby continues to pursue an anti-regulatory strategy that leads to more death.

Who exactly does Abhinanda think enforces local gun control laws? The gun control fairy? No, it’s “police with their domineering guns” that would be responsible for enforcement of any municipal ordinance that she and other activists might put on the books if the state’s preemption law were to disappear.

We, the people who live here, not big business, know what we need to be safe. We must have the right to pass local laws designed for our communities without fear of retribution.

That’s why March for Our Lives Florida is proud to defend local democracy and stand with advocates demanding we redefine public safety by empowering the people.

Right now, Florida is allowing the NRA to threaten the safety of our homes, our neighborhoods, and our schools. It’s time we all speak up and tell our lawmakers to put an end to firearm preemption laws and put people over profits. Only then can we create safer communities.

Abhinanda seems fixated on the idea that the only reason Florida’s firearms preemption law exists is to somehow secure greater profits for gun companies, as opposed to protecting Floridians from a patchwork quilt of gun laws that vary from town to town.

The March for Our Lives activist spends so much of her column attacking capitalism and “big business” that she fails to mention even one local gun control law that she and other activists want to put on the books in cities and towns across the state.

As for the idea that the only way to create safer communities is through local gun control laws, I suggest that Abhinanda take a look what’s actually happened to the state’s crime rate since preemption took effect in 1987. The homicide rate has dropped from 11.4 to 5.2 per 100,000 people, while violent crime overall has declined by nearly 66%; from 1,024 violent crimes per 100,000 people down to 378 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2019. In other words, Florida’s become a much safer state with firearms preemption laws in place.

Abhinanda’s argument in favor of more local gun control laws falls flat, in part because she offers no specifics about what local laws are lacking, but also because she fails to acknowledge the truth about violent crime in the state. Instead, she offers only a word salad of anti-corporate and anti-Second Amendment rhetoric that ignores the actual voters in Florida who know that public safety doesn’t involve preempting citizens of their right to keep and bear arms.