What to Pack if You're Packing: Tampa Gun Rule Puts Super Soakers in Crosshairs

Tampa gun rule makes concealed guns legal, but Super Soakers in crosshairs.

ByABC News
August 21, 2012, 1:51 PM

— -- When delegates and visitors flock to Tampa for the Republican National Convention, many will pack their licensed handguns -- and that's perfectly legal.

But Super Soakers, puppets or lengths of wood bigger than 1/4-by-2 inches? Better leave 'em at home.

It's all part of a high-stakes balancing act in the city of Tampa as it looks to protect the more-than-50,000 expected convention visitors from a politically charged, volatile atmosphere -- in a state that allows conceal-and-carry weapons.

"You have conflicting people with conflicting ideologies, so there's always potential that you're gonna have trouble," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, adding that security concerns during the four-day event are "paramount."

"[We want] delegates and protestors to have a safe environment in which to participate," he said.

The Secret Service is taking the lead on convention security in both Tampa and Charlotte, where the Democratic National Convention will be held. It has a strict no-guns rule at major event venues, so anybody who shows up with a firearm will be promptly turned away, said Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie.

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But once outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, it's a different police jurisdiction -- and a different ballgame when it comes to security.

In Florida, state law forbids any local government, city or municipality from passing its own gun measures. Officials who purposely violate that law could be fined up to $5,000.

That didn't stop Buckhorn from trying, though: In May, he petitioned Florida Gov. Rick Scott to bend the law and grant the city a four-day exemption that would prohibit guns in most of the greater downtown area through the convention.

Figuratively speaking, his request was shot down.

"We have had political conventions in this country since the dawn of the republic," wrote Scott in a spirited response letter to Buckhorn in May. "Our fundamental right to keep and bear arms has coexisted with those freedoms for just as long, and I see no reason to depart from that tradition this year."

But just days before Tampa takes center-stage for the convention, Buckhorn blasted the governor's response as "unfortunate."

"I don't approach this as an anti-Second Amendment guy," Buckhorn told ABC News, adding he's a gun owner who's had his own permit for a decade. "Guns in the hands of civilians in a potentially dynamic environment is not a good thing."

Instead, the city has enacted something of a compromise: It passed an ordinance that's effective only while the convention is in town -- from 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 27 to 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 1. The temporary law doesn't mention firearms but tries to clamp down on almost every other kind of would-be weapon.

Across city property, there's a laundry list of banned items -- such as nunchucks, slingshots, mace, sticks, aerosol cans, paintball rifles, explosives and, yes, water cannons and Super Soakers. Bonfires, launching objects and containers filled with any kind of body fluid are also a no-go.

And in the event zone, which covers most of downtown Tampa, don't even think about bringing glass bottles, long rope or chains, padlocks, gas masks or anything that could be used as a shield.

The combination ban on string, masks and sticks in the event zone also means an effective ban on puppets, which protesters often carry for demonstrations.

"Those weren't just things that were just randomly pulled out of the air," Buckhorn said. "Those are the types of weapons that anarchists tend to use."

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office defended Tampa's temporary Super Soaker ban: The water guns shift from benign plaything to serious hazard when protesters fill them with chemicals, feces or other body fluids, said spokesman Det. Larry McKinnon.

"This country was built on the right of people having the right to free speech and the right to protest, and that's what we all stand for," McKinnon said. "But when the lines cross, and you are no longer a protester but a law violator ... that's when we're gonna be forced to take action.

"And a lot of times, those actions are not pretty," he added.