Gov. Rick Scott shoots down Tampa's request to ban guns outside GOP convention

The governor says barring concealed weapons would be an overreach by Tampa.
Gov. Rick Scott had been asked to override a state law.
Gov. Rick Scott had been asked to override a state law.
Published May 2 2012
Updated May 3 2012

TAMPA — Saying he will not allow Tampa to disarm citizens throughout its downtown, Gov. Rick Scott shot down the city's request to ban concealed weapons outside the Republican National Convention.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn asked Scott on Tuesday for an executive order authorizing the ban. In a two-page response dated the same day, Scott said no, that's too much.

Already, he said, the Secret Service will ban guns inside the convention's security perimeter.

"You are now requesting that citizens be disarmed in all of downtown Tampa," Scott wrote.

The governor said he shares Buckhorn's concerns about the dangers of violent antigovernment protests during the Aug. 27-30 convention in Tampa.

"But it is unclear how disarming law-abiding citizens would better protect them from the dangers and threats posed by those who would flout the law," he said. "It is at just such times that the constitutional right to self-defense is most precious and must be protected from government overreach."

On Wednesday, the mayor said he was disappointed but not surprised. "He's made no bones about where he stands on Second Amendment issues," Buckhorn said.

Also disappointed was City Council member Lisa Montelione, who is not ready to give up.

Montelione said she will urge her colleagues to ask the Secret Service to use its authority to ban concealed weapons around the convention, as well as inside it.

"To me, that's the only hope we have left of reducing the number of firearms in that general vicinity," she said.

Buckhorn says he already knows the answer to that.

"They could," he said, "but they won't."

The feds theoretically could expand their reach and ban concealed weapons in the city's proposed "Event Zone," said University of Florida Research Foundation professor of law Michael Seigel.

But Seigel doubts they would get involved in a public safety issue that is distantly removed from the VIPs the Secret Service is responsible for protecting.

While uncomfortable with Tampa's request, Scott did not suggest the Secret Service is going too far by banning guns inside the convention itself.

"The governor will let the Secret Service make the decision they deem appropriate to protect the safety of the candidates and the delegates inside the convention, but he is not going to extend their decision outside the area they control for reasons explained in the letter," Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham said in an email.

Tampa police referred questions about effect of the governor's decision to the mayor. Recently, though, the head of the police union said he's confident police will be ready. First, Tampa officers already have experience working big events like the Super Bowl and Gasparilla.

Also, "we pretty much look at everybody like they're armed," Tampa Police Benevolent Association president Greg Stout said.

An estimated 15,000 protesters could converge on Tampa. Most are expected to be peaceful, but authorities are preparing if any try to disrupt the convention.

Today, the City Council will consider Buckhorn's proposed rules for protests outside the convention. A temporary ordinance would create a designated protest area, an official parade route and expedited procedures for getting city permits.

It also would ban many objects that could be used as weapons inside the Event Zone, which would cover downtown south of Interstates 4 and 275, plus Ybor City and the area around the University of Tampa.

It is in that zone that Buckhorn wants to ban concealed firearms.

But because a 2011 Florida law pre-empts cities from passing their own gun regulations, city officials say they face an absurd irony: They can ban water pistols but not real ones carried with a concealed-weapons permit.

Buckhorn, who owns a .38-caliber revolver and has had a concealed-weapons permit, said he is less worried about people with carry permits "than the ones who may somehow acquire a weapon and use it to create mayhem."

"Some of the people that will be here in August aren't exactly model citizens," he said. "Eliminating guns from that environment would only make sense."

But the author of Florida's "stand your ground" law said Scott made the right call.

"You are talking about a big city (and) a lot of people that are there with some adverse purposes," said state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. "If anything, they may need to protect themselves from harm. Self-defense is a concept that keeps order. If law-abiding citizens will stop violence from occurring, we're all safer for it."

In his letter to Scott, Buckhorn had noted that Florida law bans guns in certain places including athletic events, polling places and meetings of the Legislature.

Scott, however, said Tampa wants something more drastic than keeping guns out of schools and government buildings.

"An absolute ban on possession in entire neighborhoods and regions would surely violate the Second Amendment," Scott said.

Buckhorn said the Event Zone is the size that it is because at the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., anarchists didn't stay on the parade route, but roamed through downtown, smashing windows and setting fires.

Still, Scott said he is confident federal, state and local officials will protect Floridians and visitors without resorting to "sweeping infringements on our most sacred constitutional traditions."

Meanwhile, in Charlotte, the site of the Democratic National Convention, officials are wrestling with questions of their own over guns.

In January, Charlotte adopted an ordinance allowing it to set up "extraordinary event zones" — designated areas where backpacks and other items will be prohibited.

The city wanted to ban guns in those zones, too, but North Carolina law allows people to carry concealed weapons — unless they're at a parade or protest. That has led to confusion there about exactly where and when people will be able to carry guns.

Times staff writer Marissa Lang and Katie Sanders of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report, which also includes material from the Associated Press.