Tampa City Council approves Event Zone- but still intent on banning guns inside it

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As has been well documented, Florida law bans local lawmakers like the City Council to regulate firearms. If they were to do so, they could be held personally liable.

Councilwoman Mary Mulhern has been consistently the most outspoken critic of the attempts to curb protester rights during the convention, and again spoke extensively about her objections, such as permitting groups to protest or hold marches during the convention.

She also said the ordinance was created to make the community feel safer, but she said she had no confidence that would be the case, and that was because the city couldn't regulate people from bringing guns into the Event Zone.

She said she didn't accept Governor Scott's rejection of a request by Mayor Bob Buckhorn to grant the city an exemption from state law as the final word, and advocated to her colleagues that they not support the ordinance, saying that would send a louder message to the governor and other state lawmakers about how concerned the Council was with the fact that people with guns will be allowed to carry them close to the convention site.

With the exception of Yolie Capin, however, they disagreed and went ahead and supported the measure (Capin's main objection was the size of the Event Zone, which extends out 2.6 miles). But they then discussed and agreed on sending the letters to the governor, state legislators, members of the Tampa Bay area congressional delegation, the Secret Service and the office of Attorney General Eric Holder to request that guns be prohibited in the Event Zone.

Assistant Tampa Police Chief John Bennett said that the reason the Event Zone's size is as large as it is wasn't done arbitrarily, but came from analysis of previous conventions. He said it was to address the area of "criminal energy."

Although the new Event Zone is smaller than the original request by city officials, it was extended over the past two weeks to include a portion of Harbour Island - and will allow the city to add a number of city parks that resident outside the Event Zone to be under the same restrictions as inside that area.

Councilmember Lisa Montelione once again expressed concerns about whether 3,000 other enforcement agencies that will be teaming up with Tampa Police during the convention. Bennett said that Hillsborough County Sheriff Department's Colonel Ed Duncan has gone to all of the other local Sheriff's offices that will be working during the RNC to tell them that they must abide by the rules that the TPD and Hillsborough County employ.

Because the passage of the ordinance was considered a done deal (the vote was similar to the original one the Council cast two weeks earlier), only seven people came up to criticize the ordinance.

The ACLU's Mike Pheneger said he considered the revised ordinance an improvement from the original edition, but said he still had objections. But knowing he could not stop the vote, he recommended that the city to having city leaders meet with demonstrators when they come to town, as well as having the city providing water and shade for them.

Activist Samantha Bowden said as a geography student she's well aware of public space and said access to it was of great concern for her. She said because of the severe restrictions on protesters, "I'm sure something will go down." She called the ordinance incoherent and incomplete.

Meanwhile, Frank Reddick blasted the handful of Occupy Tampa and Occupy protesters who scrawled messages with chalk on the sidewalk outside City Hall and, he claimed, inside the men's bathroom at City Hall. Tampa Police approached the activists but did not arrest anyone.

One of the protesters, Michael Fernandez, told CL before the meeting that he was using chalk as a medium to "express our outrage at the City Council's Event Zone ordinance."

"We're just out here trying our very best to do our civic duty as citizen's of the United States to make sure our government doesn't infringe our 1st Amendment right to free speech and free assembly."

After a spirited debate amongst themselves, the Tampa City Council today passed on second hearing today an ordinance regulating the rules for behavior during the week of the Republican National Convention in the section declared the "Event Zone," extending the boundaries slightly from its passage of the original ordinance passed two weeks ago.

The final vote was 4-2, with Council members Yolie Capin and Mary Mulhern dissenting (Charlie Miranda was absent from the final vote).

But there is still widespread distaste among the board that such a zone will ban ropes and chains longer than 6 feet long, locks, gas masks, water guns, and glass bottles - but not concealed weapons.

After they voted for the Event Zone, the Council then discussed authorize crafting separate letters to be sent to various federal agencies and lawmakers - including again Governor Rick Scott - asking that the Secret Service be allowed to expand the part of the convention area that they will control to include the Event Zone. As the convention has been declared a National Special Security Event, which allows the Secret Service to become the lead agency for the event. That discussion will resume next at next week's Council meeting.

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