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Politics

Licensed guns won't be allowed in RNC

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 03:13 AM
TAMPA -

Tampa has endured national ridicule recently for a proposed "clean zone" policy that would ban people attending the Republican National Convention from carrying string and gas masks but not licensed concealed firearms.

Florida's gun laws block the city from acting to limit guns, but the Secret Service plans to turn away anyone who approaches the convention gates with a firearm.

Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie said this week that only law enforcement officers will be allowed to carry guns during the convention within a security perimeter, which has not yet been designated.

If someone tries to enter the convention grounds with a forgotten gun in a purse or pocket — as happens from time to time at airports around the country — the person will be turned away, Ogilvie said.

At airports, the Transportation Security Administration confiscates and destroys guns not properly secured and checked through its security system.

Ogilvie says that won't happen at the RNC.

"We will not be responsible for taking weapons away if people have them," he said.

People waiting to get through the convention's security barrier are on Tampa's turf, he said.

"It's really up to the city and the person who has the weapon as to what to do with it," Ogilvie said.

The Tampa Police Department is taking a hands-off stance.

Spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the city has no plans to confiscate weapons at the convention gate, even for the few hours a delegate is inside the convention grounds.

So what will happen to delegates turned away because they're carrying guns?

Neither the city nor the Secret Service can say.

State legislators appear unlikely to make the situation any clearer.

They have no plans to bend the state's gun laws so Tampa can regulate handguns outside the RNC.

"We are not aware of any discussions to create an exemption," Katherine Betta, spokeswoman for House of Representatives Speaker Dean Cannon, said this week.

Florida's gun laws became a national issue when Tampa's city attorney confirmed those laws block the city from controlling guns in Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed RNC "clean zone," which includes parade routes through the city and the public viewing area outside the convention.

The proposed clean zone ordinance, now under review by the city council, bans a litany of objects — including gas masks, pipes, chains and blades of all sorts — that rabble-rousing protesters could use as weapons or shields against police.

Early drafts of the 18-page ordinance included limits on guns, but they had to be removed because of Florida Statute 790.33, commonly known as pre-emption. The law, passed last fall, threatens local government officials with fines and possible loss of office if they impose any rules on gun ownership within their boundaries.

That has created a scenario in which people — protesters and conventioneers alike — in downtown Tampa could be arrested for carrying squirt guns outside the convention perimeter, but not firearms.

A special session would be required to write an exemption for the RNC, said Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, which issues concealed-carry permits.

City officials aren't holding their breath.

"We have a Republican-dominated Legislature that probably won't vote for that," said City Councilman Mike Suarez. "The governor won't call a session to do it. And the Legislature wouldn't pass it anyway."

Suarez and other city officials were stung last week by the public ridicule heaped on Tampa by MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, and by websites such as ThinkProgress, which highlighted the fact that the clean zone would ban string longer than six inches but not handguns.

An editorial in The New York Times described the situation as "a national embarrassment."

The city council delayed consideration of the clean zone ordinance until Thursday to give members a chance to digest the proposal and its implications. They know they will make the final decision in the national spotlight.

"I often think, 'what will Jon Stewart say,'" Councilwoman Yvonne Capin said last week, referring to the comedian and political satirist. "He's got to be saying it about the Legislature."

People planning to bring concealed weapons to the RNC need to keep in mind a few rules:

In short: "You can't show it off," said Stetson University law professor Robert Batey. "You can't practice your quick draw."

Florida does allow people with concealed-carry permits from other states to carry their guns here, but only if the permit-holder is 21 or older. Illinois is the only state in the United States without a concealed-carry law.

City officials expect to have up to 4,000 police officers patrolling the city's core during the convention. But they also expect thousands more protesters and conventioneers.

What has proved a volatile combination in other cities could become even more so here if people introduce guns to the mix, said Joseph Little, a law professor at the University of Florida.

"If you've got some zealot that's committed to suicide, a whole lot of damage can be done before anyone does anything," Little said.


kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7871

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