The mayor of West Palm Beach, Florida has instituted a state of emergency after several nights of violent protests, including riots on Sunday evening that resulted in the arrest of five people. That’s not an unreasonable thing to do, but some of the details in the order absolutely are unreasonable, including Mayor Keith James’ proclamation that firearm and ammunition sales are forbidden in the city while the order is in effect.
According to James’ proclamation, not only are gun and ammunition sales now verboten, but the lawful carrying of firearms in public is also prohibited.
Is this legal? According to the Florida statutes, the answer is yes. In fact, according to the statutes, those prohibitions automatically kick in once a state of emergency has been declared because of rioting and unrest.
Whenever the public official declares that a state of emergency exists, pursuant to s. 870.043, the following acts shall be prohibited during the period of said emergency throughout the jurisdiction:(1) The sale of, or offer to sell, with or without consideration, any ammunition or gun or other firearm of any size or description.(2) The intentional display, after the emergency is declared, by or in any store or shop of any ammunition or gun or other firearm of any size or description.(3) The intentional possession in a public place of a firearm by any person, except a duly authorized law enforcement official or person in military service acting in the official performance of her or his duty.
Nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed to authorize the seizure, taking, or confiscation of firearms that are lawfully possessed, unless a person is engaged in a criminal act.
Note that the statute says that gun and ammo sales, as well as carrying a firearm in public shall be prohibited, not may be prohibited. It may very well be that Mayor James is happy that his emergency order comes with these restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms (he’s previously complained about not being able to implement local gun control laws thanks to the state’s preemption statute), but it sounds like even if he were a Second Amendment stalwart he wouldn’t have had a choice once he declared a state of emergency because of the riots.
The order is set to expire at 9 p.m. Wednesday evening, though it could be renewed for another 72 hours if the West Palm Beach City Council votes to extend the order. While a court challenge to the language in the Florida statutes is possible, it’s highly unlikely that a hearing would take place before the order expires.
Instead, Florida gun owners and Second Amendment supporters should start talking to legislators about the language of the statutes that requires the ban on gun and ammo sales and the lawful carrying of firearms. When riots and civil unrest break out, Americans want to protect themselves. There’ve been long lines of customers reported at gun stores across the country over the past couple of days, and I’m sure there are plenty of residents in West Palm Beach who would like to purchase a firearm for self-defense right now. To deprive them of that ability at a moment when their Second Amendment rights are more important than ever seems unwise to me, if not unconstitutional.
Rioters and looters are already breaking in to gun stores in nearby Miami, so clearly they’re not going to be thwarted by a simple proclamation. It’s the law-abiding residents of West Palm Beach (and potentially other cities as well) who are bearing the brunt of this ban, and legislators need to fix this flaw in the state statutes as soon as possible. It’s unconscionable that Americans seeking some ability to protect themselves during a state of emergency can be left disarmed and defenseless by the State.