About eight times a year, the Suncoast Gun Show takes place at Fort Lauderdale's War Memorial Auditorium -- city-owned property -- and the next event is coming up January 12 and 13. Attendees are allowed to bring guns into the show, and kids get in free!, the website announces. (Admission is $8 for adults.)
Some people might think it's just peachy that little Billy and Sally learn to shoot, but the idea of kids and guns together sounds haunting to those of us who haven't shaken off the terror from the murder of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Their surviving classmates just started school again yesterday.)
Fort Lauderdale activist/tile shop owner/former mayoral candidate Earl Rynerson is one person who's actually taking action locally in the wake of Sandy Hook. He wants to pressure city officials to stop hosting gun shows on city property.
"In a progressive tourist destination like Fort Lauderdale, this shouldn't be happening," Rynerson says.
A year or two ago, Rynerson heard about the regular gun shows and wandered in for a look-see. He was stunned that attendees were not allowed to have cameras or shoot video on-site, but it was perfectly acceptable to bring weapons inside. "If people saw what was happening inside there, they would be appalled," Rynerson says.
On his blog, A Better Fort Lauderdale, Rynerson -- who grew up shooting a rifle -- recounted how he saw vendors selling Nazi paraphernalia and T-shirts with images of President Obama in crosshairs. And assault weapons. And bullets. Lots of guns and bullets.
More alarming to Rynerson was the impression that he got from talking to people at the show -- that permits and background checks were required in order to buy weapons on-site but that some people were using the show to window-shop and network; shadier deals were being made later, off-site in hotel rooms.
The customers he saw at the show, Rynerson says, "aren't local Fort Lauderdale residents buying sport rifles," he said. "These are guys coming down to stock up their arsenal in Alabama or their militia in Mississippi."
Rynerson says that after attending the show, he requested from the city a copy of the contract with Suncoast; it revealed that the promoter paid $4,000 per event to hold shows here. Rynerson said he invited City Attorney Harry Stewart and City Manager Lee Feldman to attend a gun show with him, and both declined. He says he doesn't bother to contact Mayor Jack Seiler ("He hasn't done a single thing for this city") and that his commissioner, Charlotte Rodstrom, listened but did nothing. (Her seat is currently vacant.)
Rynerson believes the city has since signed a new contract with Suncoast; New Times was not able to get a copy of it late Wednesday. Seiler and Feldman were not available then either, but we will update if we hear from them.
Rynerson encourages people to call and email city officials and object to hosting the show. And if anyone wants to show up at the event January 12 and 13 to protest, he's game! Rynerson can be reached through his blog.