The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has warned that the August Republican convention is on course to be a ‘disaster’ because of protest restrictions — as the city fails to get concealed weapons banned from the convention area.
Last month we reported how Florida’s lax gun laws, as written by the National Rifle Association, will mean that pistols firing water are banned during the Convention — but concealed pistols firing bullets are fine.
The city’s proposed ‘clean zone’ (now ‘event zone’) around the Convention Center has a banned items list, which runs from air pistols to water pistols and also includes terrifying items such as masks, plastic or metal pipes, hair spray, mace, placards and string more than six inches long.
Tampa had concluded that, although it could force people to wear loafers (as shoelaces are generally longer than six inches), because Florida law doesn’t allow cities to ban concealed weapons from any public areas, it couldn’t do anything about them.
Said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn:
“You know, isn’t this the stupidest damn discussion? You think about it. I’m going to ban squirt guns, but I can’t ban hand guns. I wonder sometimes if the NRA hasn’t high-jacked the Florida Legislature. …”
But then they found a loophole which meant that law enforcement could get what they wanted, which is guns banned for the protection of Republican convention goers and those protesting them. Problem was that that loophole was to ask Florida Governor Rick Scott to make an exception, as it turned out that state law allowed, and not only did Scott say no, he said no within a few hours of receiving the request. He couldn’t even be seen to be considering it.
Scott’s argument was that not allowing concealed weapons was removing one freedom too many (banning string is OK though, freedom is apparently unaffected) and that having possibly hundreds of gun-carrying fired-up protesters near the objects of their ire actually meant Tampa would be even safer.
The NLG says that Tampa’s proposed string-banning ordinance (which covers a large area of the city, including several residential areas) lays out a militaristic view of crowd control and would drastically and unconstitutionally restrict protests. It contains a one hour time limit on demonstrations and protesters fear they will be pushed far from sight or sound of the Convention.
The NLG warns that the proposed ordinance could “scar the city’s reputation and drain its pocketbook.”
Over the past decade, NLG lawsuits have successfully challenged police abuses stemming from similar ordinances, bringing hangovers to hot-tempered host cities in the form of costly litigation and multi-million dollar settlements. Most recently, the City of Chicago agreed to pay out $6.2 million to hundreds of protesters falsely arrested during a 2003 anti-Iraq War protest.
In their letter to the city council, the NLG write:
In case after case, the NLG has documented problems resulting from aggressive policing,supported by ill-informed local governments, of peaceful mass assemblies. History has shown us that special ordinances passed in anticipation of National Special Security Events such as the RNC are not only often unconstitutional, but have also repeatedly failed to enhance public safety. The vast majority of any violence seen at demonstrations in the United States is not carried out or caused by demonstrators, rather it is undertaken by police who are trained to see protesters as inherently criminal, and are then deployed with so-called less-lethal weaponry and the power of false arrest. We hope that the City of Tampa will take seriously our observation that police overreaction and the curtailment of First Amendment activities run directly counter to the safety and rights of event participants. The militarization of these events in the past has resulted in the costly and violent curtailing of free speech and has been detrimental on a number of fronts, from huge costs during hard economic times to the tarnishing of host cities’ reputations.