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Tampa faces lawsuit for violating gun owner’s open carry rights

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Open carry events have gained a lot of attention nationwide with many private businesses banning people from doing so inside their establishments. For example, Texas businesses are grappling with whether or not to ban open carry as the state moves toward legalizing the practice.

The idea of people wandering around in the open with guns holstered to their hips is reminiscent of the wild, wild West.

In Florida, open carry is still illegal in most situations, but there are exceptions. Now a Florida group and one of its members are suing the City of Tampa and Mayor Bob Buckhorn, among others, for detaining a man they say was legally carrying his weapon in the open.

During one of its monthly open carry events, the group Florida Carry hosted a fishing expedition at Ballast Point Park in Tampa to promote open carry, educate the public on Florida’s laws and give lawful gun-toting Floridians a chance to practice their Second Amendment rights.

Fishing is the activity of choice in the group’s events because it’s one of a handful of situations in which legal gun owners are allowed to openly carry their guns

According to Florida Statute 790.25 section 3h, “a person engaged in fishing, camping, or lawful hunting or going to or returning from a fishing, camping, or lawful hunting expedition.”

But that didn’t stop Tampa Police from detaining George Freeman and temporarily seaizing three of his guns. Freeman was open carrying one gun, another was concealed and another was located in his car.

Freeman ultimately was not charged with a crime, but got a trespass warning in the park from police. According to the lawsuit filed in Hillsborough court, officers also illegally recorded the serial number of his gun – something allegedly not allowed unless the person in possession of the firearm is being charged with a felony.

Like these groups or not, it appears they have a strong footing in the lawsuit. A user listed as “Tampa Police Department” claimed in comments on the Gun Writer blog in Herald Tribune they were trying to reach Freeman to apologize and would be rescinding the trespass warning.

“It was an error on the officers’ part. The trespass warning will be rescinded and we are working to contact Mr. Freeman to apologize to him,” the post read. “Officers are being reminded that open carry of a firearm while fishing is legal in Florida.”

But that effort isn’t enough for Freeman’s wife, Kristen.

“A (sic) apology and taking back the no trespassing is bs,” she wrote. “They detained him, took his guns, phone keys, everything for doing something that is legal. Sorry Tampa pd gotta do better than that. You didn’t even announce yourself. You have traumatized him me and our children wtg!”

According to the lawsuit, an unknown officer reportedly “snuck up” to Freeman to disarm him.

In order to pay legal fees associated with suing the city, Open Carry Florida launched a GoFundMe page. So far that group has raised $3,865 of its $5,000 goal, with contributions coming in from 108 people since June 18.

The group has another event scheduled at Ballast Point Park on Saturday, July 11, from 10 a.m. until noon. A Facebook event page announces Florida Carry leaders and attorneys will be in attendance.

There are eight guests listed as “going.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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