By MITCH WEISS and TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press
TAMPA, Florida (AP) — The thousands of protesters expected at the Democratic and Republican national conventions can come armed with a lot more than signs and slogans: State law in Florida and North Carolina allows concealed weapons, including guns.
In Tampa, where the Republicans will hold their festivities this fall, officials are starting to worry about people toting guns in such a politically charged environment. The City Council voted Thursday to ask Republican Gov. Rick Scott to help them temporarily ban concealed weapons. Charlotte officials have yet to publically voice concern, but with both cities trying to balance public safety with First and Second Amendment rights, it's likely the host city for the Democratic convention will also have to address the issue.
The Tampa City Council wants Scott to issue an executive order, preventing people with concealed weapons permits from carrying guns.
"We believe it is necessary and prudent to take this reasonable step to prevent a potential tragedy," council member Lisa Montelione said in a draft letter to Scott.
Tampa city leaders have already proposed a host of banned items (lumber, hatchets, gas masks, chains and "super soaker" water cannons) — but they are prevented from outlawing concealed guns.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the state law has made the city "look silly," particularly because officials can ban water guns but not real ones.
"We're kind of constrained by the state law," he said.
The issue is a more complicated in Charlotte. The city in January adopted an ordinance allowing it to set up "extraordinary event zones" — designated areas where people won't be allowed to carry backpacks and other items.
The city wanted to ban guns in those zones. State law, though, allows people to carry concealed weapons — unless they're at a parade or protest.
"The zone is going to be far bigger than a demonstration area. So if I have a demonstration that marches us down main street, but the extraordinary event zone covers all of downtown, what about the area outside the demonstration? That's the piece that been hitting us here," said Mark Newbold, an attorney with the Charlotte police department.
Tens of thousands of delegates, journalists and political junkies will stream into the mid-sized cities for the multi-day conventions. Republicans hold their event at the Tampa Bay Times Arena Aug. 27-30. The Democrats' party is a week later at the Time Warner Cable Arena. Inside the arenas, the Secret Service has banned civilians from carrying guns.
Both cities have hosted large gatherings before — Tampa has held four Super Bowls and Charlotte has entertained the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament and the National Rifle Association convention — but neither has really experienced an event such as this.
In the past 50 years, political conventions have become a magnet for protesters, and they have sometimes turned ugly.
In 1968, demonstrators tried to disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Scenes of police clashing with protesters on the streets played on TV screens in living rooms across America. Four years later, anti-war demonstrators disrupted the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach.
More recently, thousands of protesters descended on St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2008, when the city hosted the Republican National Convention. Some demonstrators smashed cars, punctured tires and threw bottles in a confrontation with pepper-spray-wielding police. Hundreds of people were arrested over a few days.
"Everything we are doing is based on something that happened at another convention or another national security event," Tampa City Attorney Jim Shimberg said.
The federal government has given $50 million each to Charlotte and Tampa to help them pay for new security-related equipment, training and officer salaries.