Ft. Lauderdale police start enforcing background checks for buyers at gun shows

By William Hladky, 

A gun show in January at Fort Lauderdale's War Memorial Auditorium

A gun show in January at Fort Lauderdale’s War Memorial Auditorium

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. 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Last month, police told that the county’s background checks ordinance was no longer in effect due to Florida Statute 790.33, enacted in 2011.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.


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 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)…”

Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler

Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler

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]



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Latest comments

  • To me that should have been done a very long time ago because you have to have a licence to drive a car and that can kill why not guns can really kill innocent people everyday (bullets have no eyes).

    If these people who want to buy guns have nothing to hide why are they so upset about having to get a background checks?

    I know people will say a lot of these shootings are because they might have stollen the gun but when these guns are used at the very least if they are registered the police can go back to the owner to find out why didn’t they call the poiice when it was “stolen” in other words the police would have a paper trail.

  • This is just more anti-gun BS. The US DOJ just released their latest report of gun crime last month. So, how often are crime guns bought at gun shows? Almost never. Only 0.8% (that’s 4/5 of 1%) of guns used in crimes are purchased from gun shows. Where do most criminals get their guns? From sales through licensed dealers where background checks are already required by both state and federal law. More criminals get their guns this way than even from theft and street sales combined. Background checks don’t work, and criminals already know this (apparently so does everyone else except the FLPD and the Fort Lauderdale City Council), because they already have a way of getting around them without gun shows. This is just about ignorant bigoted people abusing the power of government to vilify something they neither like nor understand.

  • Carol, you obviously don’t actually know anything about the topic, do you? First, who says that stolen guns used in crimes have not been reported stolen? That’s a huge (and incorrect) assumption on your part. How does reporting them stolen keep criminals from getting them and using them? Also, see my post above. According to the US DOJ, most criminals actually get their guns through sales from licensed dealers that do go through background checks.

    Second, you answered your own question yourself. When you asked why legal gun buyers don’t want background checks, it’s because the way they are done, there is then (as you called it) a paper trail (which is actually a backdoor method of registration). Gun registration has no legitimate purpose. It has never been effectively used for anything other than gun confiscation. Of the states (and there are only a very few) that have gun registries, not one has ever been used to secure a conviction for a violent crime committed with a gun. Maryland tried to get rid of theirs two years ago, because it costs several million dollars a year to run it, and because, as I said, they never solved a single crime based on it. They were eventually bullied into keeping it by the Brady Campaign, because, as they said, it would set a bad precedent to repeal a gun control law simply because it was ineffective.

    Canada just recently did repeal their long gun registry for the same reason. Despite claims from antigunners that it would only cost $2 million a year and help solve hundreds of crimes, it actually cost $70 million a year and in 15 years never helped solve a single crime. On the other hand, both England and Australia started registries decades ago, with the same reassurances we hear here all the time, about how no one would ever use the information to confiscate guns from law-abiding gun owners. Their registries also never solved crimes, but when those two countries banned virtually all private gun ownership, they were quite useful in allowing the government to confiscate everyone’s guns.

    So 1) Background checks don’t work – most criminals actually get their guns through sales that already require them; 2) The system they want to use creates a permanent record of gun ownership, which is just gun registration by another name; 3) Gun registration doesn’t work to reduce or solve crimes, as has been proved by its complete failure everywhere it has been tried; and 4) The only effective purpose of gun registration is gun confiscation, which has also been proved by its use to do just that in several well-documented instances. Those are the reasons why reasonable law-abiding gun owners and buyers oppose these background checks.

  • Anyone who makes comparisons to a driver’s license and gun ownership betrays a lack of understanding of Constitutional law. Driving is a privilege, firearm ownership is a right.

    Further comparisons of cars and firearms as a function of safety is equally ignorant of these differences…

    There are 3.8 times the number of motor vehicle deaths than all firearm murders.
    More people are killed by drunk drivers than all firearm murders.
    Most the the >32,000 motor vehicle deaths are attributed road rage and aggressive driving.

    So if safety is really the concern, why is no one promoting background check for a driver’s license?

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