LARGO — Richard Lander could have given up in October after Largo turned down his application for a home office permit that would allow him to sell guns on the Internet from his apartment.
Instead, months after the city first said no, Lander is now pursuing an appeal — backed by the National Rifle Association, his lawyer says.
If the city doesn't change its mind, said Lander and his attorney, he is prepared to sue, and the NRA would finance the case.
"I've got to say, I'm pretty excited. As far as I can tell, the city of Largo has no grounds regulating firearms," Lander said.
Lander, 34, who has a license that was approved by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to deal firearms, made his case to the NRA's Civil Defense Fund last month, and a panel approved his case for funding.
An NRA representative, who would not give her name, confirmed Tuesday that Lander's case had been given a green light for funding by the organization.
Lander's attorney is Ben H. Cristal of the Cristal Law Group in Tampa. He said Lander's main objective isn't damages but simply to be allowed to operate a legal business.
"The main goal is to allow him to sell the firearms from his home, which was his original application," Cristal said.
Before any lawsuit would be filed, Cristal said he and Lander would first try to navigate Largo's appeals process, which requires about $300 in fees.
"It seems like it's just another bureaucratic issue where an individual is making a decision based on her belief system rather than the rules that are in place," Cristal said, referring to Largo's community development director, Carol Stricklin, who has discretion on the matter.
According to an internal city e-mail in October from Largo police Capt. Brian Browne to other city staffers and commissioners, there was nothing illegal (according to state law) about Lander's objective.
"I do not think we can legally oppose it," Browne wrote.
Stricklin, however, decided to classify Lander's business as a potential "nuisances or hazard," and thus an unacceptable candidate for a home office permit.
City Manager Norton "Mac" Craig said Stricklin had the authority to deny Lander's permit, and since Lander did not have written permission from the landlord of his Rosery Road apartment (Lander says he has verbal permission), his permit was denied.
Craig last month sent a memo to city staffers saying that Largo was beginning an initiative to be "one of the most business-friendly communities in Pinellas County" — partly in response to a rise of complaints from residents like Lander who find their enterprises stifled by city rules.
Lander, a father of three, said he has been eager to start his business since receiving his license to sell firearms last year. He is looking to rent office space in Clearwater to get his business going until his dispute with Largo is settled.
He hopes to eventually open a brick-and-mortar storefront when he saves enough from online sales, he said, but not in Largo.
"I'm not going to give my tax dollars to a city more interested in throwing roadblocks my way," Lander said.
Dominick Tao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 580-2951.