WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Mayor Jeri Muoio is rewriting her executive order banning guns in city hall, but the city won't allow gun owners to roam about the downtown building.
The new executive order, which will take effect on Oct. 1 to coincide with a change in state law, allows a gun owner with a concealed weapon permit to enter city hall. However, he or she will have to be escorted by a police officer while conducting business in the building and can't attend city commission meetings.
Cities across the state, including West Palm Beach, have had to revise ordinances in recent months to comply with state gun rights laws. A new state law calls for personal fines of up to $5,000 -- and threat of removal from office -- to public officials who take actions that violate the state's gun laws.
According to state statute, guns are banned in "any meeting of the governing body of a county, public school district, municipality or special district." City Attorney Claudia McKenna said last month that since "we have continuous meetings in this building," guns could be banned in city hall.
But that interpretation drew the ire of gun-rights advocates, who said weapons could be banned only from city commission meetings overseen by a governing body. After studying the law more closely, McKenna and Muoio revised the executive order.
"If somebody comes in with a gun, and they're going to a meeting of a governing body, then they can't go, because that's strictly prohibited," Muoio said. "If somebody comes in with a gun and they are going to another kind of meeting, we will permit that and call for a police officer to escort them. They can choose not to wait for police and take the gun back to their car. I don't think it'll be a big wait. We're coordinating all of that."
But even this change doesn't satisfy Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the NRA and a former president of the organization.
"That's unlawful retention," said Hammer of the police escort requirement. "Why are they being detained? For the mayor's comfort level? How would taxpayers feel about her having law enforcement officers come escort somebody around city hall because she doesn't like guns?"
Muoio said she doesn't expect the city will have to hire additional police officers to handle the escort duty.
"I don't expect this to happen very often, we don't have much of a history of people coming in with guns," Muoio said. "If it does happen, it's not going to be a daily event. Maybe in the beginning, if some people try to test us."
Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell said she opposes guns in city hall but believes the law allows it.
"I understand what the mayor's concerns were, but I also understand we are compelled to follow the law," Mitchell said. "It's a lesson learned. I figure (Muoio) has learned that decisions you make like this, you have to really think through."
Muoio still believes "the legislature got it wrong," and the city commission is writing a resolution to send to the legislature, urging that the state law be revoked.
"We've gotten a lot of very positive emails from people who agree with our position on this," Muoio said. "While we will obviously obey the law, that doesn't stop us from saying we don't like the law."
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