South Florida Gun Show, Banned After Parkland Shooting, Files First-Amendment Lawsuit

South Florida Gun Show, Banned After Parkland Shooting, Files First-Amendment Lawsuit
Photo by Ian Witlen
Just three days after 17 students and teachers were massacred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High this past February 14, a gun show was held at a Miami community center. Others followed even closer to the school.

Naturally, many parents are outraged. In April, the City of Fort Lauderdale ended its regular gun show at the city's War Memorial Auditorium (WMA), where it had been held for the past 30 years. Now the operators of that show are suing the city because they claim they have a First-Amendment right to sell guns on public property. The auditorium sits a mere 24 miles from MSD High.

"Despite FL Gun Show's history of promoting successful and safe gun shows at the WMA for many years, as a result of the tragic shooting deaths of a number of Broward County students at the hands of a criminal, the political climate in Broward County has become very hostile towards gun shows and gun rights in general," the lawsuit reads. (Spokespeople for the City of Fort Lauderdale did not immediately respond to a message from New Times.)

Given that Broward is one of the most staunchly liberal counties in America, officials have tried on and off for years to ban the War Memorial gun show. But those efforts failed until 2018, when the county suffered one of the worst school shootings in American history. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, a leader in the anti-gun-show group, failed in his mission until the Parkland shooting.

"It seems to me that we have a situation that the community continues to speak out against having the gun show at the War Memorial," Trantalis said from the dais at a city commission meeting in March, barely a month after the massacre. "I'm hopeful that this commission will put on the record its opinion that we should not continue this gun show after the license agreement expires."

The gun show's lawyers then began chucking legal threats around, and the operators finally sued in federal court this past Tuesday. The show technically does not have a contract for the 2019 calendar year — the lawsuit says sponsors reapply for a license agreement every year. (The suit also says the company has held 24 gun shows at the auditorium in the past four years.) The show has technically reserved dates in advance for gun shows at the WMA through 2025, but the city has not yet signed off on any agreements.

But the show operators now claim in court that they have a right to hold their events at the public memorial.

"The City's refusal to rent its publicly owned facility to a lawful and legitimate business is a violation of the FL Gun Show's constitutional right to engage in commercial speech and is violative of FL Gun Show's right to equal protection under the law," the suit states. The show's operators are suing the city for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. (The latter amendment ensures that people of all races and genders are ensured equal rights under the law. It was instituted to protect the rights of freed slaves after the Civil War ended.)

The case shows the difficulty in lessening the influence of firearms sellers in Florida, which is often referred to as the "Gunshine State." After the Parkland massacre, gun-rights groups even attacked Rick Scott, Florida's hard-right-wing governor, after he supported an extremely low-stakes list of new gun-safety laws. The National Rifle Association's chief Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, remains ultrapowerful across the state. In addition to writing many of Florida's gun-rights laws, she also barks orders at state politicians even for things that have nothing to do with guns, according to a trove of emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

But while the War Memorial gun show remains locked in a legal dispute, there are signs that some of Florida's other post-Parkland reforms are working. A recent New Times investigation showed the state's postmassacre "Red Flag" law, which bars people with histories of violence or mental disturbances from owning firearms, has successfully stripped guns from dozens of dangerous people.
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli