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Florida Mayor Defies State Law In Push To Regulate Assault-Style Weapons


After the school shooting last month in Parkland, lawmakers in Florida have been pressured to act on gun laws. State lawmakers are debating a proposal to arm teachers and raise the age limit to buy certain guns, but they rejected a proposal to ban so-called assault weapons. Meanwhile, officials in the town of Coral Gables, which is near Miami, are taking matters into their own hands. The city unanimously passed a ban on sales of military-style rifles recently, but that local law puts the mayor and the city council of Coral Gables in direct violation of a 2011 Florida state law that wiped local gun laws off the books and bans local governments in Florida from creating and enforcing their own regulations.

And that state law also imposes financial penalties up to $100,000 for towns and up to a $5,000 fine per official for the local officials responsible. And because those officials are violating state law, the governor can technically remove them from office at his discretion. So you can imagine why we wanted to ask why the mayor of Coral Gables, Raul Valdes-Fauli, finally decided to move forward anyway. And he's with us now via Skype from his office. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for speaking with us.

RAUL VALDES-FAULI: Thank you for having me on your program.

MARTIN: So the Coral Gables law was voted in on Tuesday. We mentioned those strict penalties were adopted in 2011. Have you heard anything from Florida state officials at all about this?

VALDES-FAULI: No, we haven't heard anything. And we were warned by the city attorney before we passed this ordinance that this was illegal. But we wanted to challenge. We wanted to make a statement saying that that law is wrong and that we should do something regarding gun control. And I'm not talking about the Second Amendment and the right to have guns. I'm talking about these assault weapons.

These weapons have been used in Florida to kill kids, to kill people. And we thought that a statement had to be made. And, yes, it's illegal, but, you know, Rosa Parks didn't sit in the back of the bus. She sat in the front of the bus, and that was legal. And young people sat in lunch counters in stores all over the South, and they challenged the existing order in order to prove a point.

MARTIN: So is that your point? I do want to mention you are an attorney yourself...


MARTIN: ...With a specialization in banking law. But - so is that the point - is to force a challenge?

VALDES-FAULI: The point is to bring the issue to bear - to bring the issue to the forefront and to challenge the state of Florida's inaction in regulating these assault weapons. This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democratic issue. This is a protect-our-kids-type of issue.

MARTIN: Is anybody actually selling these types of weapons within the boundaries of Coral Gables?

VALDES-FAULI: No, they aren't. Nobody's selling - we don't have any gun shops here. We've had gun shows, but no, nobody's doing it...

MARTIN: So what would be the mechanism that would invoke - are you expecting that, say, one of the advocacy groups to take you to court or something of that sort?

VALDES-FAULI: We welcome the - you know, taking us to court as well as the fines that we were exposed to - a $5,000 fine. You know, we also have our First Amendment rights to express our - you know, our convictions that the sale of assault weapons is wrong, and that's why we wanted to challenge the state of Florida's legislation, which I think is wrong.

MARTIN: And what if you are removed from office?

VALDES-FAULI: That'd be wonderful. I mean, I would challenge it as violating my First Amendment right. But then I think that would prove a point in that maybe our legislators are beholden to certain interest groups, and that would prove the point.

MARTIN: Have you been hearing from constituents about this? What do they think about this?

VALDES-FAULI: I have heard from a hundred or more constituents, and with two exceptions, they're all in favor and congratulate us for having the courage of doing what we did.

MARTIN: That's Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli of Coral Gables, Fla. He was kind enough to join us from his office via Skype. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for speaking with us.

VALDES-FAULI: Thank you very, very much for having me on your program.

MARTIN: And we have reached out to Florida Governor Rick Scott's office for comment about this, and we haven't heard back yet.


MARTIN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.