Florida, standing its ground, will allow guns at the Republican convention
File this under the rubric Only in America – sticks, poles and water guns will be banned from the centre of Tampa at the Republican Party’s national convention next August. Guns, however, will be allowed. The logic behind that is drawn from the U.S. constitution. How so?
The constitution’s second amendment protects the right of citizens to “keep and bear arms” and that is taken to mean firearms. Sticks, poles and water guns do not enjoy constitutional protection. That, in a nutshell, is the argument the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, used to turn down a request by the mayor of Tampa for guns to be kept away, just for four days, from an event forecast by the organizers to draw at least 50,000 people to the city.
They will include thousands bent on demonstrating against the policies of Mitt Romney, who will be formally nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidential elections in November. Political conventions and protests make for a volatile mix, which is why Mayor Bob Buckhorn thought the downtown area near the convention center should be a gun-free zone.
That may strike a good many people as plain common sense but Scott is not one of them. The exchange of letters between him and Buckhorn speaks volumes about American attitudes towards guns much of the rest of the world finds baffling and many Americans consider absurd. Said the New York Times in an editorial: “If this situation weren’t so shameful, and so dangerous, it would be absurd.”
To place the matter into context: the mayor, a Democrat, is no anti-gun crusader. He owns one himself and numbers among the estimated 900,000 Florida residents (out of a population of 19 million) who have a state license allowing them to carry a concealed weapon. The governor, a Republican, was elected in 2010 with the support of the Tea Party movement and the endorsement of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
In anticipation of the many thousands of Florida residents and visitors to the State that will attend the Republican National Convention and its related events, the Department of Homeland Security has already designated the RNC as a National Special Security Event (NSSE). This designation is reserved for nationally significant events involving the potential for major disruptions…including possibly violent ant-government protests and other civil unrest.
Part of the City’s preparations to respond to threats includes the passage of a temporary ordinance for the downtown area. The temporary ordinance regulates certain items that are usually benign in nature, but have been historically used as dangerous weapons during a NSSE. Some of the benign items that have been used as dangerous weapons include sticks, poles and water guns.
“One noticeable item missing from the City’s temporary ordinance is firearms,” the letter continues. “Normally, licensed firearms…do not pose a significant threat to the public; however in the potentially contentious environment surrounding the RNC, a firearm unnecessarily increases the threat of imminent harm and injury to the residents and visitors of the City.”
Florida state law bars municipalities from passing their own gun regulations but the governor has the power to override restrictions with an executive order. That is what Buckhorn asked Scott to do. His reply:
The short answer to your request is found in the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution…You note that the City’s temporary ordinance regulates ‘sticks, poles and water guns’ but that firearms are a ‘noticeable item missing’…Firearms are noticeably included, however, in the 2nd Amendment.
While he shared concern that there might be violent anti-government protests, Scott said, “it is just at such times that the constitutional right to self-defense is most precious and must be protected from government overreach.”
That reflects the philosophy of the NRA, the powerful lobby which helped draft Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law. It allows citizens to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” that their life and safety is in danger. The law is at the heart of a case that made international headlines in February – the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old student. The man who shot him, George Zimmerman, said he had acted in self-defense. Initially, he was not arrested.
Protest demonstrations by tens of thousands eventually prompted his arrest and a review of the case. He is now charged with second-degree murder, free on bail and awaiting trial. Meanwhile, a public safety task force on May 1 began a review of the Stand Your Ground law. Twenty-three states have adopted similar laws and in several, Democratic lawmakers are now trying to roll back the legislation.
Among their arguments: the number of “justifiable homicides” has risen sharply in the states that adopted such laws. Will that impress those who view the 2nd Amendment as “a sacred constitutional tradition,” as Governor Scott put it in his letter to the Tampa mayor? Don’t bet on it.