Speaking about recent mass shootings in Florida, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum called for the enforcement of "common sense gun laws" and touted his own fight against the National Rifle Association.
"I was literally sued, drug through court for two years by the NRA and the gun lobby, all because in my city we refused to repeal an ordinance which said you couldn’t shoot guns in city parks," Gillum, Tallahassee’s mayor, said in an Aug. 29 interview on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.
Gillum is competing against Ron DeSantis, a pro-Trump Republican congressman, in the race to become Florida’s next governor. The election is Nov. 6.
Gillum is right — he and other Tallahassee elected officials were sued because they did not repeal an ordinance prohibiting the discharge of firearms in public parks. But he left out some context.
The NRA supported the lawsuit filed by gun rights advocates, but it was not a party to it. Courts allowed the ordinance to remain on the books, since a 1987 state law effectively declared it "null and void" and the ordinance wasn’t being enforced.
Two groups advocating for gun rights, Florida Carry, Inc. and the Second Amendment Foundation, filed a lawsuit in May 2014 against the city of Tallahassee, then-Mayor John Marks and several city commissioners, including Gillum, who served on the commission at the time. (He was sworn in as mayor November 2014.)
The NRA did not sue. But it filed an amicus brief supporting Florida Carry and the Second Amendment Foundation. "Mayor Gillum knows the NRA is not suing him, but he also knows he wouldn’t get much attention by crying out that a small Florida group and another from Bellevue, Washington, have taken him to court," Marion P. Hammer, former NRA president wrote in an opinion piece published by the Tallahassee Democrat in January 2017.
Second Amendment Foundation and Florida Carry said they were suing Tallahassee and its elected officials for "refusing to repeal ordinances restricting the use of firearms in defiance of Florida’s firearms preemption law."
The lawsuit claimed that the ordinances (one from 1957 and another from 1984, amended in 1988) had been reprinted without being amended, and infringed on the Florida Legislature’s intent to provide uniform firearm laws across the state.
A 1987 Florida law gave the state the exclusive power to regulate firearms and ammunition, and deemed "null and void" related local ordinances and regulations. The legislature in 2011 doubled down on the law by allowing penalties against local officials who enacted or enforced firearm regulations.
The 1957 provision said, "No person shall discharge any firearms except in areas five acres or larger zoned for agricultural uses." The ordinance amended in 1988 made it "unlawful for any person to discharge a firearm in a park or recreational facility owned, managed, maintained, or controlled by the city," the lawsuit said. It added that Gillum and other commissioners in February 2014 voted in favor of indefinitely tabling a repeal discussion.
The city of Tallahassee, in a filing to dismiss the lawsuit, argued that Florida Carry and the Second Amendment Foundation had "no clear legal right to compel" city commissioners to repeal the ordinances and that since the legislature had rendered the ordinances invalid, "nothing else is required."
Nonetheless, the case moved forward. A circuit court judge, George S. Reynolds, III, ultimately sided with the city, saying that the city’s actions did not enact or cause the ordinances to be enforced.
"While cleaning up the city code so that old city ordinances which are no longer legal, relevant, or enforced are removed may be good public policy, it remains the city’s prerogative – not the plaintiffs, nor this court’s," Reynolds wrote in his November 2015 opinion.
The groups appealed to the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal. But the appeals court in February 2017 also ruled in favor of the city.
Gillum said that he was sued by the NRA and the gun lobby "all because in my city we refused to repeal an ordinance which said you couldn’t shoot guns in city parks."
Gillum was among Tallahassee elected officials sued by two gun rights groups for not repealing a decades-old ordinance restricting the use of firearms in city parks. The local ordinance had been deemed null and void by a state law and not been enforced. The NRA supported the groups and filed an amicus brief, but it was not a formal party in the litigation. Other gun rights groups were the plaintiffs.
Gillum’s statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate it Mostly True.