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Tampa rebuffs gun shows

Published Oct. 6, 2005

In an effort to curb local sales of guns, Tampa officials have banned gun shows on city property and recently turned down two promoters who wanted to hold gun and knife shows at the Tampa Convention Center.

"I think we're sending a very mixed message if we host these (gun shows) and make a profit when we're trying to reduce the number of guns on the street," Mayor Sandy Freedman said Wednesday.

Freedman said city officials had discussed a ban "for a long time" and decided to proceed last month because they had no "locked-in" contracts for gun shows.

Tampa's prohibition is the latest by Florida city officials who want to curb the sale of firearms on municipal property.

The city has allowed gun shows at the convention center in the past, but records on the number of shows and the revenue they generate were not available Wednesday.

"We just don't think it's appropriate for that to occur in a public facility," Freedman said. "There is more and more recognition that we need to reduce the number of guns on the street, and I believe that government needs to do whatever it can."

The city's ban surprised and angered one promoter who asked to use the convention center for a gun show.

"I think it really stinks, taking away the rights of people to go to shows," said Bill Tsompanidis, vice president, secretary and treasurer of Southeastern Gun Shows Inc. "They're looking at a major lawsuit."

In a series of stories on unlicensed gun sales last year, the Times reported that gun shows often attract private "collectors" who sell a wide variety of guns, with no questions asked.

Federal law does not require people selling guns from their personal collections to have a license to sell firearms. Collectors also do not have to conduct background checks or impose waiting limits on those who buy.

Consequently, gun shows featuring collectors alongside federally licensed dealers offer felons and others fast, easy access to guns that include new, in-the-box, high-powered firearms as well as antiques and collector's items.

Tsompanidis said his company allows only federally licensed dealers at its shows.

"We don't deal with that nonsense, and we don't even want to be associated with those collectors shows because it's ridiculous," he said.

Southeastern Gun Shows is based in Pasco County, but the company's correspondence with the city used the return address of a Tampa business _ Submarine Gyro Town, an all-night sandwich shop on W Kennedy Boulevard.

Tsompanidis' business partner in Southeastern Gun Shows, Pete Papadatos, owns Gyro Town. Tsompanidis, who occasionally works at the shop, said he used that address because it would be easier to handle paperwork with the city.

Tampa sent Southeastern Gun Shows and a Fort Lauderdale gun show promoter rejection letters Feb. 16, two days after the Clearwater City Council voted to stop renting city buildings for gun shows.

Last month, the Florida State Fair Authority considered changing the way it handles gun shows at Florida Expo Park, but "in essence, the policy hasn't changed," authority president Steve Eckerson said.

Florida Expo Park will continue to host gun shows, but Eckerson said only federally licensed dealers and collectors with a federal permit to sell "relics," defined as being guns of a certain age, will be allowed in the shows.

"They've got to have a permit," he said. "We check each one."