It's an easy laugh line. Carrying lumber, glass bottles and water pistols probably will be banned in downtown Tampa and nearby neighborhoods during the Republican National Convention — but carrying handguns will be just fine. To update the old Florida promotional slogan, the rules are still different here. But safety during the convention is a serious issue, and political maneuvering by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Gov. Rick Scott has trumped common sense.
Here's the lay of the land: The Secret Service will ban concealed weapons in the secure area it will control around the convention site, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and nearby hotels. Outside that zone will be a larger downtown area controlled by the city, and the Tampa City Council will consider an ordinance today that would temporarily ban a number of potential weapons — from lumber to string. But state law prevents local governments from imposing any local restrictions on firearms. Buckhorn asked Scott to prohibit guns in that larger area, and the governor refused in a letter that could double as a testimonial for the National Rifle Association.
Scott accused Buckhorn of wanting to "disarm" citizens and wrote that "an absolute ban" would "surely violate the Second Amendment." Scott wrote that the convention is "just such" a time that the right to carry a gun was the "most precious and must be protected." Translation: You never know when a citizen might need a concealed handgun amid those pesky protesters.
From opposite corners, both the mayor and the governor are seeking political cover to deflect blame if tensions flare and something goes wrong outside the secure zone around the convention site as thousands of protesters, convention participants and media gather in August. To be sure, there are legitimate constitutional rights at stake in this security debate, including First Amendment rights to assemble and Second Amendment rights to bear firearms. But in this case, both Buckhorn and Scott are overreaching.
Buckhorn has pushed for a special event zone that is smaller than originally proposed but still too large. Scott's overheated letter defending the rights of gun owners mischaracterized the limited nature of the mayor's request. It also sounds off-key for an occasion the Department of Homeland Security designates as a "National Special Security Event." The middle ground would be a smaller city controlled zone where concealed weapons are temporarily banned, but that would be too reasonable.
The result is this illogical situation. Federal taxpayers will spend $50 million in Tampa on convention security, paying for everything from radios, fences and surveillance cameras to an armored SWAT vehicle. Some 1,700 Florida National Guard troops will augment the police. Downtown schools and county offices will be closed, the courts are not scheduling jury trials, and boaters will be barred from the downtown river channels. The ordinance the Tampa City Council will consider today would temporarily ban all sorts of items in a broad area, from water pistols to string longer than 6 feet.
Concealed firearms legally carried by hundreds of thousands of Floridians? Pack 'em if you've got 'em.