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Tampa may seek Gov. Rick Scott's help keeping guns away from RNC protests

TAMPA — Frustrated by a Florida law that blocks all local regulation of guns, Mayor Bob Buckhorn expects to reach out to Gov. Rick Scott for help keeping concealed firearms away from protests during the Republican National Convention.

The 2011 state law pre-empts the ability of cities and counties to pass any laws regulating firearms or ammunition.

So while Tampa plans to ban a wide range of weapons (clubs, switchblades, Mace) and things that could be used as weapons (chains, glass bottles, water pistols) outside the convention, it cannot prohibit guns carried with a concealed weapons permit.

Buckhorn anticipates sending Scott a letter soon asking the state to explore a way to suspend the law temporarily during the Aug. 27–30 convention. He hopes that would create a way to ban concealed weapons inside the city's proposed "Clean Zone," which covers downtown and surrounding areas.

"The absurdity of banning squirt guns but not being able to do anything about real guns is patently obvious," Buckhorn said Thursday. "Given the nature and the potential dynamic of this event, I think it would make sense that you would not want firearms introduced into that environment by people other than law enforcement."

Whether the governor could — or would — do anything to help the city is not clear. Scott's press office did not respond to an inquiry from the Times late Thursday afternoon.

City Attorney James Shimberg Jr. said he's looking into the issue.

"I'm working on it and trying to figure out what we can do," Shimberg said. "I'm not sure if it's doable yet."

Buckhorn, a Democrat, said he doubts the Republican-controlled Legislature would be called to Tallahassee for a special session on this issue. But if a special session were called on something else, he would hope that the issue would at least be raised.

Buckhorn also is open to executive branch action, which is why he's looking to Scott.

"It's an issue that is serious enough that I think he would want to at least be advised of it," he said. "We just want to put it on his radar and ask that he try and create some remedy for it."

In the event of an emergency beyond local control, Florida law does allow the governor to issue executive orders that have the force and effect of law. Among the powers conferred upon the governor in emergencies is the authority to "suspend or limit the sale, dispensing or transportation of alcoholic beverages, firearms, explosives and combustibles."

There will be one place during the convention where concealed weapons will be banned regardless of what the state does or doesn't do in response to the city's request: inside the convention itself.

That's because the Secret Service will control access to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the site of the convention, and it has said no one but on-duty law enforcement officers will be allowed to take guns into the event.

Shimberg said he has not officially asked the Secret Service whether it would consider expanding its authority to cover a larger area around the convention. But based on previous conversations, Shimberg expects the Secret Service will remain focused on the area inside the secure perimeter that it sets around the convention, leaving the city responsible for the area outside the perimeter. That's why it's proposing the Clean Zone ordinance, he said.

One legal expert said such an expansion of federal authority would be possible but is not likely.

The supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the Secret Service the authority to ban guns inside the convention even though Florida law trumps the city's authority to regulate them elsewhere, said Michael L. Seigel, a University of Florida Research Foundation professor of law. The supremacy clause makes the Constitution and the national laws made pursuant to it the "supreme law of the land."

So, no matter what Florida law says, as long as the Secret Service points to a law giving it the authority to carry out its mission, it can prevent people from carrying concealed weapons into the convention.

Theoretically, Seigel said, the Secret Service could expand the geographic reach of its authority and ban concealed weapons throughout the city's Clean Zone, too, as long as agents could connect that expansion to the legitimate pursuit of their lawful authority.

And Seigel has seen something like that happen on a small scale. He once went to a rally for then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton at Hillsborough High School.

There, the Secret Service ringed a couple of blocks around the school with school buses and had everyone enter that perimeter through a metal detector.

But chances are slim that the agency would do the same for the much larger Clean Zone, which, as originally proposed, would cover several square miles.

A former federal prosecutor, Seigel doubted that the Secret Service would get involved with a public safety matter happening a long distance from the VIPs its agents are required to protect.

Buckhorn said he simply wants "the ability to control our streets for that week."

"I've got a responsibility," said Buckhorn, a gun owner who has had a concealed weapons permit of his own. "I'm the guy who's going to have to make it work. Anything we can do to add one more level of security, one more level of safety for the people who are here is a good thing."

Tampa may seek Gov. Rick Scott's help keeping guns away from RNC protests 04/19/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 20, 2012 7:46am]
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