With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspending a Hillsborough County state attorney for “neglect of duty” and “incompetence” for vowing not to enforce certain laws relating to abortion and “gender transitioning,” the Orlando Sentinel wants to know why the governor isn’t taking a similar stance on sheriffs who’ve vowed not to enforce any new gun control laws.
It’s an argument that’s been picked up by multiple media outlets today, in large part because it’s designed to put DeSantis on the defensive, and the Florida governor is one of the left’s biggest villains at the moment, given his popularity in his home state and the odds of him running for president in 2024. So is the governor playing politics, as one of his Democratic critics in the Florida legislature alleges?
A DeSantis spokesman didn’t respond to a question Friday on whether the governor has concerns about the constitutional sheriff movement.
State Rep. Dan Daley, D-Sunrise, said the governor’s position is hypocritical because other elected officials remain in office who have made similar promises on issues important to conservatives.
“All you have to do is Google ‘Florida sheriff not enforcing,’ and there are so many examples, mostly related to guns,” said Daley, a supporter of gun control legislation. “If this is the game you are going to play and tell me it’s not political, you better start suspending those people, too.”
One problem with Daley’s argument is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of sheriffs actually ignoring any existing gun control laws. The Orlando paper quotes Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma telling supporters in 2020 that he wouldn’t enforce a proposed ballot referendum that would have required existing owners of modern sporting rifles to register them with the state, but that ballot referendum didn’t even wind up before voters, much less become law. The paper’s other “evidence” is equally thin; a 2013 statement from the Florida Sheriffs Association that sheriffs would not “assist, support or condone” any unconstitutional gun law, and two sheriffs who tout themselves as “constitutional sheriffs,” though what that means is left up to interpretation.
Interestingly enough, however, the Orlando paper did find evidence of a former governor suspending a sheriff for not enforcing a gun control law: now-Senator Rick Scott.
In 2013, former Gov. Rick Scott did suspend Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch, who subscribed to the constitutional sheriff ideology.
Finch freed a man accused of carrying a concealed gun without a permit, citing the Second Amendment. He was reinstated later in 2013 after a Liberty County jury found him not guilty of official misconduct and falsifying public records.
It’s possible, then, for DeSantis to suspend a sheriff if he believes they’re acting incompetently, neglecting their duties, or acting with malfeasance. But until there’s evidence that’s actually happening it’s a moot point.
I will say this, though. If either Charlie Crist or Nikki Fried surprise the nation by pulling off an upset victory over DeSantis in November, I fully expect them to look for a reason to suspend one or more sheriffs in a tit-for-tat move. In fact, if I were the sheriff of a Second Amendment Sanctuary community in a blue state, I’d be going over my state constitution with a fine-toothed comb to see if my governor has the same power accorded them that the Florida constitution gives the state’s chief executive.
If a Gavin Newsom or a Phil Murphy have the authority to go after pro-Second Amendment sheriffs or prosecutors, I’m sure they’ll be tempted to do so now that DeSantis has suspended a progressive state attorney. We’ve already seen Newsom respond to the Texas anti-abortion bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbott by calling for and signing legislation empowering private citizens to sue gun makers, and with Democrats looking to show their base that they’re “fighters,” targeting sheriffs who oppose new gun control measures is sure to be a crowd-pleaser on the left in any state where they can get away with it.