Written into Florida laws regarding states of emergencies amid civil unrest are three paragraphs about guns.
One prohibits gun sales. Another bars stores from displaying any firearms or ammunition. And the third forbids anyone but law enforcement and military officers from the “intentional possession in a public place of a firearm.”
“Basically this is saying, don’t bring a gun to a peaceful protest,” said Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis during a news conference Friday in West Palm Beach.
And if you do, “We will prosecute,” she said.
Amid protests and subsequent unrest following the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd, Palm Beach County municipalities have used that state statute to enact nightly curfews.
They remain in place in the cities of West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach as well as in the town of Palm Beach. The curfew on the island will be in effect until municipal leaders terminate it, and in Riviera Beach, the order is slated to be in effect through Sunday.
West Palm Beach will keep its curfew in effect at least through Sunday, Mayor Keith James said the news conference.
State law also allows “discretionary” measures, including banning alcohol sales and public consumption as well as public gatherings. West Palm initially included those in its order, but city leaders reworked that language in its latest state of emergency declaration to only prohibit those activities during the curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
But the firearm-related aspects of the statute are mandatory, so they have to remain in place, James and Ellis said Friday.
For two of West Palm Beach’s only gun store owners that means their customers are looking outside the city limits.
“The order doesn’t protect anybody,” said Alex Shkop, owner of Guns and Range Training Center across from Howard Park, “because if somebody wants to get something they can go less than two miles away.”
Palm Beach County has not declared a state of emergency, meaning the restrictions only are in effect for the boundaries of municipalities that have done so, and with unincorporated pockets of the county surrounding West Palm Beach, buyers don’t have to look far.
By 11 a.m. Friday, Adam Golden already took 15 calls turning away potential customers.
“(It’s) crippling,” said Golden, managing partner of Baba Boom Guns, which has an office on South Olive Avenue. “How can you go a week without pay?”
West Palm Beach first enacted the state of emergency Sunday evening, following confrontations between “agitators” and police downtown.
James countered claims that the city’s declaration violates the Second Amendment. He said he takes the curfew “very seriously” and enacted it for residents’ safety.
The city’s gun store owners who spoke with The Palm Beach Post on Friday say the law is having the opposite effect. They said they saw a spike in sales amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among people who never had owned guns.
Golden said he has had calls from people wanting to purchase firearms because they are concerned that the city’s police department is “stretched thin” and they want to protect themselves and their homes.
He’s been directing them to business outside the city limits.
For Shkop, whose business also does training, the city order has him consulting a lawyer. Its lack of clarity, he said, means he’s unsure whether he can hold classes.
“We sell guns. We do background checks. We’re not selling them off the trucks,” Shkop said. “The good person now is restricted. That’s kinda the irony of the law.”
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