County Clarifies Gun Rules for Governmental Buildings

Dec. 12--TAMPA -- Florida law permits Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White or anyone else with a concealed-weapon permit to carry a gun into the Fred B. Karl County Center.

County Attorney Renee Lee sent White a memo Monday saying the former Tampa police officer can legally continue to carry a concealed pistol into his new downtown office.

Lee cited a Florida statute that lists places where weapons are prohibited no matter the circumstances. These include jails, courtrooms and schools but not county centers or city halls.

"The Board of County Commissioners has not adopted a policy concerning board members possessing concealed weapons while conducting county business," Lee wrote in her memo. "The only prohibitions against concealed carry by an elected commissioner ... are those found in the statutes."

Lee said she saw no contradiction between state law and signs at the County Center that say "Weapons Prohibited" -- in big red letters.

"The signs say that the general rule is no weapons should be brought into the building," she said. "The exception is for people with concealed weapons permits."

County employees are prohibited from carrying weapons onto any county-owned property, but not because of state law. The county has a policy prohibiting employees from carrying weapons.

"If I have a gun in my car, I couldn't even drive it on county property and leave the gun in the car," said Assistant County Administrator Carl Harness, who oversees security in the County Center.

Lee said county commissioners are constitutional officers and are covered by different rules than employees working under the county administrator.

Lee wrote that commissioners are prohibited by the statute from bringing a gun to board meetings, which are held on the second floor of the county center.

White is a 42-year-old former police officer who works as a corporate security officer for Rooms to Go. He was a Tampa City Council member until Nov. 7, when he won election to the county commission. His concealed-weapon permit is valid through November 2010.

Reporters for the St. Petersburg Times questioned him last week about carrying concealed weapons, and he asked Lee for her opinion. White could not be reached for comment Monday.

As at the County Center, licensed weapons are allowed inside Tampa City Hall except in the city council chambers or during other meetings. People who attend council meetings must walk through a metal detector and past a police officer.

"We do not have [the metal detector] downstairs, so obviously someone with a concealed weapon could come in and even visit some of the offices," City Attorney David Smith said. "I've never been real comfortable with that, but that's what we do."

The county commission chambers do not have metal detectors.

Concealed weapons are not allowed in the Pinellas County Courthouse, where the county commission meets, said Michael A. Zas, Pinellas senior assistant county attorney. That is because state law prohibits weapons in courthouses, and the county commission meets in the same building.

Violating the law is a second-degree misdemeanor.

"I would have thought it would have been higher," Zas said.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair, citing shootings in courthouses in other states, said it might not be a bad idea to let White carry his gun into board meetings.

"Since we don't screen people coming through the door, we could definitely be at risk because we make a lot of tough decisions," Blair said.

Copyright (c) 2006, Tampa Tribune, Fla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.