By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
Fresh efforts to enforce two county ordinances should prevent cash-and-carry gun sales at guns shows in Broward County for buyers who have not already passed a state background check.
BrowardBulldog.org reported last month that Fort Lauderdale Police were not enforcing the county’s background check ordinance for sales made at gun shows due to police confusion over its legitimacy. This month, police posted a sign at the entrance to a gun show at War Memorial Auditorium warning patrons about the county ordinances.
The Broward County Commission in 1998 passed the background-checks ordinance and a companion ordinance requiring a five-day waiting period when gun sales occur “on property to which the public has the right of access.” A violation is a misdemeanor.
The ordinances exempt holders of Florida concealed weapons permits who have already passed background checks. State law also exempts law enforcement officers from background checks mandated by state statute.
Fort Lauderdale Police spokeswoman Detective DeAnna Greenlaw verified by email that city police were now enforcing the background check and waiting period ordinances.
“I am aware of the sign,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler. “That sign already confirms what we are doing…We are fully enforcing the county ordinances as well as the state law.”
Last month, police told BrowardBulldog.org that the county’s background checks ordinance was no longer in effect due to Florida Statute 790.33, enacted in 2011. That law declares all municipal ordinances that regulate gun possession and sales “null and void.”
Legal experts, however, said the department’s legal interpretation was wrong because that statute is trumped a 1998 amendment to Florida’s Constitution giving counties the option to enact ordinances requiring a background check and a three-to-five-day waiting period.
FORT LAUDERDALE POLICE ABOUT-FACE
The department soon changed its policy. The sign about the county ordinances was first posted outside the auditorium for a gun show on May 4-5.
The city police’s legal position is important. Broward’s two largest gun shows, sponsored by Ohio-based Suncoast Gun Shows and North Lauderdale’s Trader Ritch, are held in Fort Lauderdale.
Greenlaw, who speaks for Police Chief Frank Adderley, declined to discuss the department’s about-face.
But Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan focused attention on the enforcement issue in an email to county commissioners and the mayors of other Broward cities. He cited last month’s BrowardBulldog.org article and said, “If your City is intending to conduct a gun show or your law enforcement encounter a gun transaction initiated or conducted on property to which the public has access, I would strongly suggest you obtain a legal opinion regarding the city’s authority and obligation to enforce Broward County Ordinance(s)…”
Ryan’s email prompted County Commissioner Lois Wexler ask County Administrator Bertha Henry to request a legal opinion about the ordinances from County Attorney Joni Armstrong.
On May 1 Armstrong wrote, “…The County’s requirements for a five-day waiting period and a criminal history records check for the described firearms sales remain valid.”
Wexler also brought the ordinances to the attention of the Broward County League of Cities. “I wanted elected officials to be aware of what the ordinances said and for them to be enforced,” Wexler said. She added that Henry sent the county attorney’s opinion to Broward’s city managers.
The county ordinances should slow down “straw purchases” at gun shows, said Hamilton Bobb, retired Assistant Agent in Charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Miami. Straw purchases occur when a criminal uses a girlfriend or an associate who can pass a background check to buy a gun.
“It should slow it down if the girlfriend has to wait five days,” Bobb said. “Usually they want to get a quick sale.”
Gun sales between individuals at non-public locations are not subject to background checks and a waiting period.
While state law requires licensed gun dealers to perform background checks on buyers even at gun shows, private sellers at gun shows in Florida are not required to do so in locations without an ordinance similar to Broward County’s.
Bobb pointed out that a felon can purchase a gun at a gun show if the seller does not do buyer background checks.
“I think (the ordinances) will have an impact,” Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs said, adding that she backs the ordinances “1000 percent.”
“It will surely stem the tide of illegal sales,” the mayor said. “I’m hoping through education about the ordinances that those cities that have shows will work with their city attorneys and law enforcement…”
“I don’t believe (the ordinances) will have an impact,” said Rich Nascak, executive director of Port Orange-based Florida Carry, which describes itself as a nonprofit, grassroots, lobbying organization “dedicated to advancing the fundamental civil right of all Floridians to keep and bear arms for self defense…”
Nascak said, “I don’t believe in laws that are designed to be preventative in nature because they do not work. Laws against murder and robbery don’t prevent them. Laws are designed to determine penalties.
Residents have spoken out about gun shows at War Memorial Auditorium.
At commission meetings this winter, Charles King urged that they be discontinued, saying they were “getting a little out of hand” with guns being displayed as kids played outside in the surrounding Holiday Park.
Mark Hartman told commissioners, “The use of park facilities for gun shows for the promotion of weapons is completely contrary to a child’s safe environment. It sends an inappropriate message especially to our youth and to our foreign tourists.”
Marshall Schnipper disagreed. “I’ve never been to a gun show where a gun fight has broken out, never. Most of the people who own guns are responsible owners of firearms…I think everybody should own an assault rifle.”
Mayor Seiler said in an interview that Suncoast has a contract with the city to hold eight gun shows at War Memorial during the year. Suncoast will pay the city more than $38,000 for the use of the auditorium, he said.
“We will evaluate at the end of the year” whether the city should enter into a new contract with Suncoast, said the mayor, pointing out that he is not against gun shows.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Lawrence Livoti represents Suncoast. He said his client supports background checks and will not challenge the county’s ordinance.
“We’re appalled at what happened at Sandy Hook. We are not out to make sure everyone has a firearm…We want to keep them in the right hands,” Livoti said.
Suncoast considers the city its business partner. He said the company recently sent letters to each of the commissioners inviting them to attend a show.
“We pay a lot of money to the city, plus they earn huge fees from parking. Exhibitors stay overnight and buy food. They come from around the state and bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in business,” Livoti said.
The next Suncoast gun show at the auditorium is scheduled for June 15-16.
Gun shows have been held at War Memorial since the 1970s. The city never has had an issue inside the auditorium, Seiler said.
The mayor, however, is concerned about the city’s lack of authority to control guns outside the auditorium in Holiday Park. “There should be reasonable restrictions so people can enjoy Holiday Park,” he said.
Seiler complained about the 2011 state law that invalidated all other city or county ordinances regulating gun possession and sales, saying it has “handcuffed the city.” He called it “ironic” that the state law that blocks police from enforcing “reasonable (gun) restrictions” in Holiday Park may now force the city to stop gun shows at the auditorium.
The city commission unanimously voted on Feb. 5 to ask the Legislature to repeal the law and allow municipalities the authority to regulate “firearms and ammunition in public parks and other local government owned facilities and property”
The Broward County Commission passed a similar resolution three weeks later.
Broward Bulldog Editor Dan Christensen contributed to this report.
William Hladky can be reached at [email protected]