Government and Administrative

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act: Fundamental Changes to Florida's Gun Laws

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act: Fundamental Changes to Florida's Gun Laws

Originally published in The Florida Police Chief Magazine, March 12, 2018

The Parkland school shooting has prompted significant changes in Florida’s gun laws involving the mentally ill and those who pose a danger to themselves and others. The passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act will dramatically impact Florida’s gun laws. However few entities will be impacted by these changes as much as Florida’s law enforcement agencies. The Act fundamentally changes the status quo and provides law enforcement officers and agencies broad new tools to protect the public when they encounter someone suffering from mental health conditions in possession of a firearm or those who possess firearms and are a danger to themselves or others, regardless of whether they are mentally ill. Among other things, the Act allows agencies to seize firearms and ammunition from anyone who is involuntarily committed and establishes procedures and timeframes by which firearms are returned following the release from treatment. The Act also creates a firearm ownership and possession “disability” that prevents firearms ownership and possession by those with qualifying conditions until the court reinstates the right.

Perhaps most innovative is the creation of the risk protection order. Any law enforcement officer or agency may petition the court for a temporary ex parte order to deprive someone of his or her right to own or possess firearms where the person poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or others. The respondent is entitled to a prompt hearing, and, if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent poses a significant danger, it can extend the order for up to 12 months. Orders may also be extended for additional terms upon specific circumstances. Those affected may petition the court to remove the disability and must prove by clear and convincing evidence that they no longer pose a significant danger to themselves or others. Risk protection orders will be entered into FCIC and NCIC, and will therefore be readily viewed by officers in the field.

Officers and agencies should promptly familiarize themselves with the changes in order to take advantage of the protections the new laws provide. Agency leaders are also statutorily required develop policies and procedures for the seizure, storage and return of firearms or ammunition seized pursuant to the amended Baker Act. Agency counsel should be consulted prior to the implementation of any new procedures or prior to taking action pursuant to the Act.

J. David Marsey is a former police officer, investigator and prosecutor and is an attorney at the law firm of RumbergerKirk in Tallahassee, Florida. He defends and advises corporations, government entities and their employees on casualty, employment and constitutional issues throughout the state.