TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Tuesday asked Gov. Rick Scott to prohibit the carrying of guns in downtown Tampa during the Republican National Convention.
It's something the city cannot do itself because of a block put in place by Florida law. But Buckhorn said city officials believe it's necessary to ban guns, including those carried with a state concealed-weapons permit.
"Normally, licensed firearms carried in accordance with the Florida statute requirements do not pose a significant threat to the public," Buckhorn said in a two-page letter. "However, in the potentially contentious environment surrounding the RNC, a firearm unnecessarily increases the threat of imminent harm and injury to the residents and visitors of the city."
Scott's press office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, and it has not responded to three previous inquiries from the Tampa Bay Times about the city's desire for state help banning concealed weapons outside the convention.
A 2011 law passed by the Legislature pre-empts cities and counties from passing local laws regulating firearms or ammunition.
As a result, Tampa plans to ban many weapons (clubs, slingshots, brass knuckles) and items that could be used as weapons (crowbars, glass bottles, water pistols) outside the Aug. 27-30 convention — but it cannot ban guns carried with a state concealed weapons permit.
Amid the highly charged protests near the convention, someone with a concealed weapon could end up in an incident covered by Florida's "stand your ground" law, according to legal experts. That's the law that has fueled controversy over a neighborhood watch volunteer's fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
Buckhorn wants to ban carrying concealed firearms inside the city's proposed "Event Zone," which covers downtown and a few surrounding areas.
In his letter, he noted that Florida's firearms laws do not authorize anyone with a concealed-weapons permit to carry a gun into certain places where he said "a firearm would not be needed for self-defense, but instead (would) create an unnecessary threat of injury and harm to innocent bystanders."
"Those places include athletic events, polling places and meetings of the Legislature," Buckhorn said. "An event like the RNC may not have been contemplated at the time these statutes were enacted, but the city strongly believes that the RNC meets the spirit of the exemptions."
Along with enacting a temporary ordinance setting ground rules for RNC protesters, Buckhorn said the city is increasing security, including using nearly 4,000 law enforcement personnel, "which should create a safe environment in the downtown area where a firearm should not be necessary for self-defense."
Buckhorn, a Democrat, owns a .38-caliber revolver and a .22-caliber rifle and has held a state concealed-weapons permit of his own. He said in his letter to Scott that Tampa officials respect the Second Amendment and understand the state's desire to provide uniform regulation of firearms.
But he said he hopes the state appreciates the seriousness of the need to secure the convention, one of the few events anywhere to be federally designated as a "National Special Security Event."
"As governor, you have the duty to meet dangers presented by events such as the RNC where there is a threat of substantial injury or harm to Florida residents and visitors to the state," Buckhorn concluded, asking for "an executive order prohibiting the transportation of firearms in downtown Tampa during the RNC. The time period of the regulation would be nominal since the RNC is only four days, and the location of the regulation would be limited only to the city's downtown area."
Last week, the Tampa City Council agreed to make an appeal of its own to Scott, saying in the draft of a similar letter by council member Lisa Montelione that "it is necessary and prudent to take this reasonable step to prevent a potential tragedy."
The Secret Service has said it will ban concealed weapons inside the convention, which will be held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The agency's federal authority overrides the state law in the area under its control, and it has said that only on-duty law enforcement officers will be allowed to take guns inside the convention's secure perimeter.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.