TAMPA, Fla. – Florida Gov. Rick Scott has rejected a request from the Tampa mayor to prohibit the carrying of guns in downtown during the Republican National Convention this summer because it would infringe upon "sacred constitutional traditions," according to a letter released Wednesday.
Concerned about the politically charged atmosphere on the streets outside the convention hall, Mayor Bob Buckhorn wrote to Scott Tuesday asking for an executive order that would temporarily override state laws allowing people with concealed weapons permits to transport firearms downtown.
The Republican governor fired off a letter to Buckhorn later Tuesday, denying the request in no uncertain terms. Scott said banning firearms in downtown Tampa would infringe on citizens' constitutionally protected rights to legally arm themselves.
Scott wrote that while he shared Buckhorn's concern about violent anti-government protests and other civil unrest, "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," Scott wrote. "I am confident the many federal, state and local law enforcement agencies focused on the RNC will fully protect Floridians and visitors, without the need to resort to sweeping infringements on our most sacred constitutional traditions."
Buckhorn, a Democrat, told reporters Wednesday he was disappointed but not surprised.
"I believe that there is no reason to have a concealed firearm in downtown Tampa that week," Buckhorn said in a statement. "And, to be clear, I am far less concerned with those who have concealed weapons permits than the ones who may somehow acquire a weapon and use it to create mayhem ... These are extenuating circumstances and should be treated as such."
Scott, who was elected with tea party support and endorsed by the National Rifle Association, has been clear about his stand against any gun-control efforts. One of the bills he signed into law after this year's legislative session prevents doctors from asking patients about gun ownership. Doctors had urged a veto, contending that it would violate the doctor-patient relationship.
Dennis Henigan, vice president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Wednesday that Buckhorn's request of Scott "seems like the height of common sense."
"This kind of debate outside a national convention should be done without the intimidating presence of guns," Henigan said. But he added that "nothing Florida does ever surprises us" when it comes to allowing access to guns.
For the convention, Tampa city leaders have already proposed a host of banned items (lumber, hatchets, gas masks, chains and "super soaker" water cannons) — but they are prevented from outlawing concealed guns. Buckhorn had said the state law has made the city "look silly," particularly because officials can ban water guns but not real ones.
Tampa wants to ban those items within a wide "Event Zone," which includes a protest area with portable toilets, water, a stage and a microphone for protesters. Outside that area, people will be allowed to march down an official parade route as long as they have a permit. The exact location of the protest zones and security perimeter will be decided later.
Members of a group called the Coalition to March on the RNC said they plan to speak out against the limitations at a Tampa City Council meeting Thursday.
The guns issue is more complicated in Charlotte, host city for the Democratic National Convention. The city in January adopted an ordinance allowing it to set up "extraordinary event zones" — designated areas where people won't be allowed to carry backpacks and other items.
The city wanted to ban guns in those zones. State law, though, allows people to carry concealed weapons — unless they're at a parade or protest. That makes it unclear exactly where and when people are allowed to carry guns.
The Republicans will gather for the nominating convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa Aug. 27-30, and the Democrats will follow a week later at Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena. The Secret Service has banned civilians from carrying guns inside the arenas.
The federal government has given $50 million each to Charlotte and Tampa to help them pay for new security-related equipment, training and officer salaries.