The next time Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin decides to regulate firearms or write firearms policy, he should run his ideas by the city attorney first. It would certainly save a lot of time, energy and, most importantly, taxpayer dollars.
At the Sarasota City Commission hearing Monday night, before Barwin’s “assault weapon” ban resolution was even debated — before one member of the public had a chance to comment — Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier told the commission that Barwins’ proposal would likely violate Florida’s powerful preemption statute, which states that only the Florida legislature can regulate firearms.
Fournier also told the commissioners that if they violated the preemption statute, they could be sued, fined, removed from office and forced
to pay for their legal defense with their own money.
“I wouldn’t recommend that you take action,” Fournier said of Barwin’s resolution, which called on state and/or federal officials to ban “assault weapons” from the public, while allowing police access to the guns.
Barwin was dumbfounded.
“I find this to be completely incredible,” Barwin said to the city attorney. “You’re not passing a law.”
Barwin had just got done telling the packed commission chambers that his proposal was “not on the agenda to rehash debates on the Second Amendment.”
He decried “bullying” from “special interests,” adding “I regret that the bullying is rooted in an industry and its lobbyists who have only one goal, to increase sales and profits. The bigger the gun, the higher the profits and damn the consequences.”
Barwin even acknowledged that the city commission had no authority to change state law.
Fournier was adamant, adding that if someone sued, “I think it’s going to be very difficult to get that lawsuit dismissed.”
“Does this prevent us from having a discussion about this resolution?” Mayor Willie Shaw asked.
Public comments about the resolution were emotional and strong, and ran about 3-1 — pro-gun vs. anti-gun.
Once Sarasota resident, Matt Greg said that “the 49 people who lost their lives in Orlando, lost their lives to a radical Islamic terrorist. If you take our weapons away, you’re going to leave these citizens unprotected. What I do see is a City Commission that spends a lot of money on parking meters and roundabouts, rather than on a police department that will try to defend us. You have no right to tell us that we can’t defend ourselves.”
Greg said the “facts” in Barwin’s proposal were more “Facebook” than “facts.”
“If you think gun laws are going to stop these type of people, you’re mistaken,” said a man in an NRA hat.
Rick Peron, who said he joined the U. S. Marine Corps at 17 after emigrating from Cuba, said “The Boston bomber used a pressure cooker. Did we ban pressure cookers? If you want to use your political position to help your community, 22 veterans are dying every day.”
Mike Young, owner of Sarasota’s Young Guns and Safety, told the commission that the Second Amendment doesn’t specify the type of weapons that are allowed.
“I get to choose what I want to use,” he said. “And the Second Amendment is not about hunting. It’s about the right to defend yourself and your freedom.”
Banning guns because of the way they look is “political eyewash,” Young said, adding. “There’s no such thing as assault weapons. There are assault people.”
Fran Misantone, owner of The Bullet Hole, said he recently loaded a firearm at his shop and put it on the counter for a reporter to see.
“I defy this gun to kill anyone,” he said. “The only way it can is if you put stupid people behind it.”
Misantone, and several others, pointed to a lack of police in Sarasota adding, “that’s why we have to protect ourselves.”
Timothy Peter Graham, a Sarasota artist, talked about an armed home invasion robbery of three young people in Sarasota, in which the suspects bound the victims and took a woman into a bathroom to commit a rape.
“Luckily, a guy in the back room had an AK-47, fully loaded and ready to go,” Graham said. “They had a handgun, He had an AK. It scared the crap out of them and they ran out. In a situation like that, that AK-47 saved those girls from getting raped, and that was here in Sarasota involving people I know.”
After public comments ended, Barwin showed a video montage to support his resolution. The video showed clips of the Orlando terrorist attack from CNN, ABC News and Good Morning America.
“Let’s do all we can to minimize risk,” Barwin said.
The commissioners ended up being more concerned about their personal risk from lawsuit than they were assault weapons. While many voiced support for Barwin’s proposal, only Commissioner Suzanne Atwell voted for the resolution, which died 4 to 1.
Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said the preemption statute “has tied the hands of this body.”
This statute has prevented us from speaking out on behalf of residents,” she said. “This statute says the action of the legislature is to occupy the entire field of regulation.”
“I don’t want to be sued again, because it’s hell,” said Commissioner Susan Chapman.