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Courts / Law

"Event Zone" OK'd for GOP National Convention; Concealed Weapons Still a Concern

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The new city ordinance regulates how many people - and which groups - are allowed to assemble in a large area around downtown Tampa during the GOP convention. That doesn't sit well with some people, including Mathew Medina of Tampa.

"I think the purpose of this ordinances is to give the police the power to arrest anyone they want at any time," he told council members, "by criminalizing everything."

He didn't sway City Council members, who voted 4 to 2 to approve the ordinance. Councilman Harry Cohen says it's needed to keep the thousands of visitors expected to descend on the area safe.

"I think it's reasonable," says Cohen. "And I think that the city attorney and the police department are making the best effort that they can - and the mayor - to put reasonable restrictions in place to insure everybody's safety."

The ordinance bans almost anything that could be conceived as a weapon - from baseball bats to pieces of string longer than six inches. And although you can't pack a water pistol, concealed weapons are OK, according to state law. Councilwoman Mary Mulhern cast one of the "no" votes.  

"We can restrict all sorts of things with an ordinance," says Mulhern, "but we can't tell people that they cannot come into this national special security event, we can't tell them to leave their weapons at home."

Gov. Rick Scott has nixed a plan that would have amended the state's concealed weapons permit law to prohibit guns in the "Event Zone." So Council members unanimously voted to ask the Department of Justice and the Secret Service to instead expand its security cordon. That now is restricted to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center and prohibits concealed weapons.