Florida gunowners and the organizations that represent their interests in a challenge to a local ordinance in South Miami won a key decision on appeal, based on a 1958 US Supreme Court ruling protecting the privacy rights of individuals that are members of associations.
The Third District Court of Appeals of Florida ruled in Miami on Dec. 27 in favor of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Unified Sportsmen of Florida (USF), saying that the identities of members of those organizations are private and need not be disclosed in a lawsuit.
The NRA and USF sued the city of South Miami for enacting an ordinance requiring trigger locks on all firearms, an ordinance they claim is in violation of Florida law. Under Floridas preemption law (The Joe Carlucci Uniform Firearms Act of 1987), local governments are prohibited from passing any ordinances concerning firearms or ammunition. Further, state law specifically provides that firearms may be secured by numerous other methods. Hundreds of NRA members and USF members in the city of South Miami are adversely affected by the ordinance.
The city filed for discovery and demanded a list of the names and addresses of all NRA and USF members who reside in the city; a list of all members who are taxpayers in the city of South Miami; a list of all members in the city who own firearms; lists disclosing how members store their firearms; and a list of all members who have children living in their homes, in addition to other specific and private information.
NRA and USF spokesperson Marion P. Hammer said, this move by the city of South Miami was nothing more than harassment. She said it was nothing less than a devious political attempt to try to force us to give up our constitutional right to privacy in order to exercise our right to seek relief in the courtsfrom the illegal actions of local anti-gun politicians.
NRA and USF refused to provide any membership information and filed a motion for a protective order. The lower trial court held that NRA and USF must disclose information for at least 10 members.
Hammer said, We have never and will never release our membership information. We will not release 10 names nor one single name, period. Both organizations again refused to release any names or membership information and filed an appeal with the Third District Court of Appeals.
In its Dec. 27 decision, the Court of Appeals held: We are not convinced that simply because the Associations filed the action as plaintiffs, they have waived their privacy rights concerning the members names. The discovery of the names should not have been ordered. We therefore quash the order.
The court based its decision on NAACP v. Alabama (1958), in which the US Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects the right of advocacy groups to associational privacy. The right to free speech includes the right to keep ones membership in an association private.
The decision in the continuing South Miami case was authored by a three-judge panel on the Court of Appeals. Stephen P. Halbrook argued the case on behalf of NRA and USF.
The NRA and USF primary case to stop the city from enforcing the illegal ordinance is still pending in the lower court with the next hearing scheduled for sometime after the beginning of 2001.
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