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Largo man sues city after being denied permits to sell guns

LARGO — The Buzz Lightyear truck rests against the TV stand, a few feet away from a locked closet containing an AK-47 and a pump-action shotgun.

The truck belongs to one of Richard Lander's four children.

The guns belong to Lander, 34, an Australian transplant who wants to sell guns over the Internet from his home here in Chapparal Apartments, off Rosery Road NE.

Two Pinellas cities have denied Lander a business permit, though. Largo wouldn't approve a home office permit for his online-only business. Clearwater nixed his application to open a gun and ammunition store.

America's traditionally gun-friendly laws are part of the reason Lander moved here 10 years ago, he says. Now he's embracing another American tradition — litigation. He sued Largo in circuit court last month; the National Rifle Association is paying his tab.

"I can understand people having their own views about guns … but when they inject their own views into this process, they're impacting the income of the city," said Lander, a manager at a postcard marketing company. "It's basically over-governing."

• • •

Lander's lawsuit, filed July 18, cites Florida statute 790.331, which states that selling guns "is a lawful activity and is not unreasonably dangerous," provided the seller is properly licensed.

Lander obtained his federal firearms license last year from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Largo police Capt. Brian Browne told city management last fall that, despite his personal reservations, he didn't think the city could legally oppose Lander's business.

Largo Community Development director Carol Stricklin denied Lander's home office permit, though, citing city standards that a home business "not generate any nuisances or hazard."

Largo City Attorney Alan Zimmet says Lander's attorney, Ben Cristal, is misinterpreting state law. The statute cited, Zimmet said, bars governments from suing firearms dealers. It does not bar cities from enforcing zoning laws, he said.

"He has no basis to sue for damages under that statute," Zimmet said.

As for Browne's assessment?

"He's not the community development director," Zimmet said. "I would disagree with his statement."

Lander encountered similar trouble when he tried to open up a gun and ammo store on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard near downtown Clearwater in a neighborhood known as the East Gateway. It's an area with historically high crime rates that city management is trying to redevelop.

"We didn't think a gun and ammunition store really met the vision of the East Gateway character district," said Michael Delk, Clearwater planning and development director.

Cristal, who represents the St. Petersburg Times in workers' compensation cases, says Lander might also sue Clearwater, if the NRA agrees to pay for that case as well.

• • •

Max Lander, 2, ran laps around his apartment last week, before stopping to offer one of his half-eaten corn chips to a visitor.

John Lander, 1, slept in his father's arms while Richard Lander explained his business plan. Fortress Armory, Lander's company, would start as an online-only operation. Profit would go back into buying inventory until he had enough revenue to fund a storefront.

His dream is for Fortress Armory to become a nationwide chain. For now, he'd be thrilled if the business funded his competitive shooting hobby.

Cristal expects a trial won't take place until 2012. He is seeking in excess of $15,000 from Largo — Lander's estimated income if Fortress Armory had been open online since last fall. That number could increase, Cristal said.

"The longer it drags out, the longer he is not able to carry on his small business," Cristal said, "and follow the American dream."

Will Hobson can be reached at 727-445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Largo man sues city after being denied permits to sell guns 08/02/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 12:16am]
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