"Do something!" was the plea that Pembroke Pines residents, Broward schoolteachers, and advocacy groups put to Mayor Frank Ortis, commissioners, and City Attorney Samuel Goren last night. They were incensed by the city's plan to host a two-day firearms show and market presented by Florida Gun Shows.
El Paso residents demanded the same of Donald Trump when the president visited the Texas border city after mass shootings there and in Dayton, Ohio, last weekend left 31 dead, shocking the nation and reigniting the national debate on gun control.
The sticking point, Goren insisted before a gathering of roughly 115 attendees, was state law. Florida is among the most gun-friendly states and in 2011 bolstered its standing by passing laws that penalize local governments attempting to make their own regulations. Goren warned that Pines officials could be removed from office and fined if they took drastic action.
Long an advocate for gun safety, Commissioner Angelo Castillo during the meeting inveighed, "How dare Tallahassee!"
The final say Wednesday night belonged to Mayor Ortis: The gun show this weekend at 601 City Center Blvd. must go on, he said, but the city had opted not to promote the event. That fact was clear Tuesday from the lack of signage along the street leading to city hall. Regarding the two remaining gun shows slated to take place in the next fews months, the mayor said the city awaits the outcome of a lawsuit by Florida municipalities challenging the state's primacy on regulating guns.
New Times obtained copies of the city's three contracts with Florida Gun Shows Inc. Two of them were signed January 7 and one June 21. They show revenue for the city totaling $114,829 for rental space alone. There will also be parking and refreshment sales, as well as a 25 percent cut of any sales of firearms, ammunition, and other merchandise sold at the gun shows.
After this weekend, gun shows are scheduled to take place at the Charles F. Dodge City Center September 28 and 29, 2019, and January 18 and 19, 2020.
Florida Gun Shows Inc. this past January filed a federal First Amendment lawsuit against Fort Lauderdale after the city declined to renew its contract. Gun shows were held eight times a year in Holiday Park, drawing 3,000 to 5,000 people per day to War Memorial Auditorium. Florida Gun Shows attorneys say Fort Lauderdale is illegally barring the company from its right to rent and sell firearms on public property.
But Miller Martinez, a Pines resident and local businessman, took the side of opponents. "It's so frustrating," he said after the meeting. "[The gun show promoters] come here because we're a prosperous community. But after El Paso and Dayton, this is just not the right time."
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Rescheduling this weekend's gun show was one of several options Wednesday's speakers suggested to commissioners. Representatives from local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the Hispanic Caucus, and Moms Demand Action were present, along with Pines residents and others from around Broward County.
Many wanted the city to terminate the three Florida Gun Shows contracts. Among them was Commissioner Thomas Good Jr., who said, "The city should not be hosting gun shows."
Vice Mayor Jay Schwartz said he was sympathetic to protesters' anger. "None of us want gun violence in our streets, in our neighborhoods, in our schools," he said.
A similar event is scheduled for the Miami-Dade Fair Expo Center August 31.