By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
OK, let’s get this straight. The city of Tampa will be able to ban clubs and spears during the Republican National Convention. But not guns.
This is great news for protecting the citizenry against cavemen. But regarding somebody with a gun and a grudge, not so much.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn had written to Gov. Rick Scott yesterday to get Tallahassee’s support for a temporary ban on guns in his city’s downtown during the August convention. But Scott quickly and flatly rejected the request, the Palm Beach Post reports today.
The Republican governor, a gun owner, returned a letter to Buckhorn just hours later, stating his conviction that arming people makes the populace safer, not more dangerous.
“We have had political conventions in this country since the dawn of the Republic,” Scott wrote in a letter dated yesterday. “They are an essential means of furthering our constitutional rights to free speech and to vote. Our fundamental right to keep and bear arms has coexisted with those freedoms for just as long, and I see no reason to depart from that tradition this year.”
Buckhorn conceded defeat today. “He was pretty clear,” Buckhorn said. “It doesn’t appear as though there’s any wiggle room there.”
In preparation for the thousands of protesters expected to descend on the city in late August, the Buckhorn administration has produced a series of rules for protesters in an area of downtown Tampa and beyond. The protesters are to stay in a so-called event zone. All types of devices are banned in the event zone, including water guns. But not firearms, an omission the mayor has lambasted as “absurd,” according to Creative Loafing.
In Florida, local governments are prohibited from regulating guns under Florida Statute 790.33. The law, commonly known as preemption and passed last fall, threatens local government officials with fines and possible loss of office if they impose any rules on gun ownership within their boundaries.
To Buckhorn, the state law puts him in the absurd position of hosting a national political convention in the midst of a contentious and highly polarized political year — and he’s unable to prevent hotheads from carrying weapons of serious destructive power.
This absurdity, alongside the Stand Your Ground controversy arising out of the Trayvon Martin case, “has made this state look like a bunch of knuckleheads,” he told a Tampa audience last month. “We really are subject to public ridicule all over the country, and to think I can’t do anything about it is really frustrating.”
“I’m gonna ban squirt guns. But I can’t ban handguns? I wonder sometimes if the NRA hasn’t hijacked the Florida Legislature,” he said, eliciting applause from the mostly liberal audience at the Tiger Bay Club.
Creative Loafing continues:
Squirt guns are just some of the items that Buckhorn and his legal team want banned from the “clean zone,” along with air pistols, masks, plastic and metal pipe and string longer than six inches. Buckhorn says all those items have been used nefariously at past conventions or at other major summits in the States, saying water pistols have been filled with “bodily fluids” aimed at police officers.
As he does whenever asked about the subject, the mayor emphasized his Second Amendment bona fides, saying he is a gun owner, but he added that “this has nothing to do with anybody’s ability to arm themselves or to bear arms. Nothing. This is absurd, the fact that local governments can’t do anything — we’ve been preempted to do anything about guns or gun violence, by extension in our local jurisdictions.”
Scott was unimpressed with Buckhorn’s dilemma.
“Like you, I share the concern that ‘violent anti-government protests or other civil unrest’ can pose ‘dangers’ and the ‘threat of substantial injury or harm to Florida residents visitors to the state,’” Scott wrote to him. “But it is unclear how disarming law-abiding citizens would better protect them from the dangers and threats posed by those who would flout the law. It is at just such times that the constitutional right to self defense is most precious and must be protected from government overreach.”