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Wal-Mart asked not to sell firearms

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

Two groups hope the supercenter near Wharton High School will not sell rifles and shotguns.

Two New Tampa groups are writing letters to Wal-Mart with hopes that the company will decide not to sell guns at the store it plans to build near Wharton High School.

The Wharton High Parent Teacher Student Association plans to send a letter to Wal-Mart's corporate offices, and the New Tampa Community Council will send a letter to Wal-Mart in support of the PTSA's position.

"(We) hope that they will re-evaluate and choose not to" sell firearms, said PTSA president Kay Harris.

She said the letter will say that people in the community are looking forward to the store coming to their area, but "we are going to appeal to them to take a look at this policy, as it affects our community."

Wal-Mart is planning to build the supercenter just south of Wharton High School on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The store would sell hunting rifles and shotguns, but no handguns. Federal waiting-period laws apply only to handguns. Hillsborough County requires a three-day waiting period before a buyer can pick up any firearm, hunting rifles and shotguns included.

PTSA members, school officials and others from the community successfully fought plans last year for alcohol to be sold at the store. In their arguments, they emphasized the store's proximity to the school and the potential risk of underage students trying to buy alcohol there. Some New Tampa residents are using similar arguments to dissuade the company from selling guns at the store, especially in light of the school shootings in Colorado in the spring.

The NTCC will write and ask City Council member Shawn Harrison to write a separate letter to Wal-Mart in support of the PTSA's position. The letter will ask that Harrison have the city attorney's office examine federal law to determine whether it is legal for Wal-Mart to sell guns so close to a school.

Harrison said he wouldn't discuss his plans about a letter to Wal-Mart until he receives the letter from the NTCC.

But he said he will ask the city attorney's office to examine the federal law. The law states that people cannot have a firearm within 1,000 feet of school grounds. But the law makes exemptions for guns on private property _ even within 1,000 feet of a school _ as well as exemptions for firearms that aren't loaded and are in locked containers.

Because of the ambiguity, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has asked its lawyers to look into the federal law, said special agent and spokesman Carlos Baixauli. It is unclear, for instance, whether it is lawful for someone to buy a gun at Wal-Mart, then go on public property within 1,000 feet of the school grounds.

Representatives of Wal-Mart could not be reached for comment.

NTCC president Gary Nager said that not everybody on the community council disapproves of guns being sold at Wal-Mart, but "we would prefer for (Wal-Mart) to err on the side of safety."

Lynn Grinnell, a member of the PTSA and community council, thinks there is a "good possibility" that Wal-Mart will reconsider its plans to sell guns at the store.

"I would think that ... receiving letters from two interest groups and a city official would get some attention," she said.

_ If you have a story about New Tampa, call 226-3473.

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