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City council still pushing for RNC gun ban

By KEVIN WIATROWSKI | The Tampa Tribune

 TAMPA -- Gov. Rick Scott may have rebuffed Tampa's call to regulate guns during the Republican National Convention, but city council members aren't done with the issue yet.

They agreed Thursday to ask the Secret Service, Department of Justice and the region's congressional delegation to do what Scott and the Legislature haven't: ban concealed weapons from the RNC Event Zone.

The plan grew out of the council's discussion of Mayor Bob Buckhorn's 18-page Event Zone ordinance, which lays out the rules for the thousands of protesters likely to fill the city's streets, sidewalks and parks during the Aug. 27-30 convention.

The council gave final approval to the plan on a 4-2 vote, with council members Yvonne Capin and Mary Mulhern dissenting. Council Chairman Charlie Miranda was absent during the vote.

Without a gun ban, Mulhern said, there's no guarantee the Event Zone restrictions will protect people.

"Do I feel safer because of the restrictions in this ordinance?" Mulhern asked. "I do not."

Mulhern argued that rejecting the Event Zone completely might force state or federal officials to act on the gun pre-emption. City Attorney Jim Shimberg, however, said a "no" vote would delay the city's plan to begin allocating parks for RNC-related rallies next month.

As it has for the past two months, the Event Zone proposal drew opponents who denounced it as an assault on their right to free expression.

"In a free society, we should foster good behavior, not control it," said Amos Miers, part of a group called Resist the RNC. Miers has offered to help the city book concerts and create an area for speakers at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park during the convention, but the city has yet to bite.

Miers and members of Occupy Tampa provoked a strong response from Councilman Frank Reddick, who was angry that the group had written on the sidewalk outside City Hall in chalk and also had left messages in bathrooms inside the building. The chalk messages have become a fixture of meetings with the event zone on the agenda.

"You do not have the right to deface the building we hold meetings in," Reddick said. "You can make your words heard, but you do not have the right to deface this building."

Even as they prepared to approve the Event Zone, council members remained frustrated that they won't be able to control guns downtown during the RNC.

The Event Zone restricts people from carrying everything from gas masks to rope to water pistols. But state law prohibits local governments from regulating concealed weapons, a rule that has opened the city to national ridicule.

"It's almost unnerving that the Legislature and governor have put us in this position," Capin said.

As an end-run around the governor and Legislature, council members decided to make their case to federal authorities, starting with the Secret Service.

The Secret Service will ban all but working law enforcement agents from carrying weapons within its security perimeter around the convention venues. Outside that security fence, state and city rules apply.

Councilman Harry Cohen suggested the city ask the Secret Service to expand its security perimeter to include the Event Zone, which covers downtown, Ybor City, Hyde Park and the northern tip of Harbour Island.

Shimberg said he's skeptical the appeal will find much traction, given that the gun laws are a state issue.

"We can't lose nothing by seeing if the U.S. attorney general will look into this," Reddick said.

Also at Thursday's meeting, council members approved a 3 a.m. closing time for Tampa's bars during the week of the RNC. The closing time mirrors the closing time set for city parks during that week.

The council also approved more than $750,000 in RNC-related purchases by the Tampa Police Department. The list includes gas masks, radio equipment tailored for large crowds and T-shirts for police. Mulhern voted against the purchases.



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