DeSantis campaign wanted guns banned at election night event, city employee says

According to emails from a Tampa Convention Center employee, the campaign didn’t want the move attributed to them.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd of supporters during his election night party at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Tampa.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd of supporters during his election night party at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 10|Updated Feb. 23

Emails suggest that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign made two requests of the Tampa Convention Center, the downtown venue that hosted the governor’s November election night celebration: no guns and no fingers pointing at the campaign for seeking such a prohibition.

In a story first reported by the Washington Post, emails from a Tampa Convention Center employee said that the DeSantis campaign told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement it wanted weapons banned from the downtown Tampa event. The Tampa Bay Times verified those emails in which Chase Finch, safety and security manager at the convention center, also suggested the DeSantis campaign knew the request was politically tricky, given Republicans’ embrace of gun rights.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement “explained that DeSantis/his campaign will not tell their attendees they are not permitted to carry because of the political optics (Republicans being largely in support of 2A and all),” Finch wrote in his email, referencing the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In one email, Finch wrote to other city employees that “it sounds like they want us to say it’s our policy to disallow firearms within the event space if anyone asks.” Finch attached a proposed security agreement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“We are not saying anything about concealed carry. That is the responsibility of the renter. We follow state statute that permits concealed carry,” wrote back Nicole Travis, the city’s administrator for development and economic opportunity, whose duties include oversight of the convention center.

She followed up with another email stating “Just to be clear, we are not signing this form.”

Finch, in an email to Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials, said the Convention Center would not tell any guests that it was the city’s policy to deny concealed carry weapons, according to the Washington Post report. Metal detectors were used at the election night event.

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Friday that it “did not request the venue restrict weapons at the direction of the Governor or campaign.”

“We recognize and value the rights of our citizens to legally bear arms,” spokesperson Gretl Plessinger said. “FDLE makes security determinations and based on security threats, FDLE encourages private and public venues to limit weapons when hosting the Governor and First Family at large events.”

In response to the story, DeSantis spokesperson Bryan Griffin said that “the governor strongly supports the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms, and he has repeatedly stated publicly that he hopes to sign constitutional carry legislation this year.”

In the Washington Post report, DeSantis campaign officials said they follow the guidance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in an effort to keep the governor safe. The campaign did not return a request for comment from the Times by Friday afternoon.

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The Post report noted other DeSantis events where firearms were prohibited inside the venues, including August rallies organized by Turning Point Action, a conservative advocacy group. That group told the Post that it followed guidance from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and said it was not Turning Point’s policy to ban firearms.

DeSantis has supported loosening gun regulations this legislative session, and last year said he would sign a “constitutional carry” law, which allows for weapons to be carried without a permit or training.

Bills have been filed for this legislative session that would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons with permits. But at the first committee hearing for the House version of that bill, a crowd of Second Amendment advocates expressed frustration with how the legislation was written. Speakers argued that it wasn’t true “constitutional carry” because it didn’t allow for people to openly carry guns in public, which most states have in some capacity.

Bob White, chairperson of the Republican Liberty Caucus, said Second Amendment supporters are paying close attention to what’s coming out of Tallahassee and feel let down.

“I think it’s entirely possible, if not even likely, that he (DeSantis) will lose support within the Second Amendment community if he doesn’t take a really bold position right now,” White said.

White said unless DeSantis steps up and calls for open carry, he thinks the community will continue to feel betrayed. White said he thinks DeSantis is trying to do what is politically smartest instead of what is best.

“It’s not like he’s the only show in town when it comes to the presidential primary,” White said.

Luis Valdes, the Florida director of Gun Owners of America, said DeSantis has a mostly good record on gun rights.

Valdes said DeSantis has argued against “gun-free zones,” which makes the prohibition of firearms at some of his events “preposterous.”

“We believe he could be a lot more pro-gun in terms of his stance,” Valdes said.

Some gun safety advocates were quick to point to the Post report as an example of politics at play.

“This proves what we already knew — when it comes to gun violence, Governor DeSantis puts ‘political optics’ before public safety,” said Wendy Malloy, a volunteer with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Our lawmakers should stand up to Gov. DeSantis’ hypocrisy and reject permitless carry.”