The mayor of West Palm Beach, Florida, has invoked a little-used emergency law to shut down the sale of guns and ammunition within his city limits, an order that comes at a time when gun sales and the stocks of arms manufacturers have surged.
Mayor Keith James also imposed a 9 p.m. curfew in the city, which saw demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in police custody last week turn ugly on Sunday.
At least five stores were damaged, shots were fired, and small fires erupted when more than 3,000 demonstrators surged through West Palm Beach streets May 31, according to the mayor’s office’s “civil unrest and curfew information” page. No injuries were reported from the riotous activity that forced police to fire tear gas and smoke canisters and to make five arrests.
At a press conference Friday, Mr. James and Police Chief Frank Adderly said the curfew and emergency rules were required after out-of-town “bad actors” hijacked the peaceful demonstrations, and the measures have been extended to at least Sunday night.
Mr. James said he has received many emails and messages via social media accusing him of usurping the 2nd Amendment in his actions, messages he insisted are misguided.
“There are charges out there that I am unilaterally trying to take guns away or violate the 2nd Amendment and that is simply not the case,” he said. “No one’s firearms are being taken away; that is not what is happening in West Palm Beach. We are not going to people’s homes and taking guns.”
Alex Shkop, owner of Guns & Range in West Palm Beach, said he believes his is the only business shut down by the emergency order and that it came at a time when business was booming.
“We’ve looked into it and had attorneys look at it and apparently there is a law on the books that allows him to do it,” Mr. Shkop said. “This is probably costing me a couple of hundred thousand dollars. But outside the city, there are lines out the door of the gun shops; it’s Armageddon there.”
Several gun owners on the outskirts of West Palm Beach declined to discuss the situation with a reporter Friday.
With the emergency declared, a state law kicks in that prohibits not only the sale of guns and ammunition but also the possession of a firearm in public by anyone not sworn in as a law enforcement official or on-duty military personnel, Mr. James said. A representative from the state attorney’s office at Friday’s press conference said, “basically, do not bring a gun to a peaceful protest. That’s all this is saying.”
Those protests are expected to continue through the weekend in West Palm Beach. and the vast majority of demonstrators are peaceful, Chief Adderly said, adding that some instigators have been identified for police by demonstrators.
“There are smaller groups of individuals carrying a gallon of milk that are coming to try to agitate the police,” Chief Adderly said. “They come here with a purpose, and that is expressed on social media as ‘protest now, riot later.’”
As elsewhere, the peaceful demonstrations are tied to the death of Floyd, who was handcuffed and pinned to the street by four former Minneapolis police officers who kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes while he said he could not breathe. Floyd lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The riots, on the other hand, have been the work of outsiders looking to capitalize on the grief, Chief Adderly said.
“Our interaction with the peaceful protesters has been great, we support their view of injustice,” he said. “But there are smaller groups of individuals carrying a gallon of milk that are coming to try to agitate the police. They come here with a purpose, and that is expressed on social media as ‘protest now, riot later.’ From my personal experience with them, they are not from West Palm Beach.”
Police are prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to apprehend those troublemakers and protect peaceful demonstrators and property, he said.
Through Thursday, West Palm Beach had arrested three people and charged them with “inciting a riot,” the most recently a Jacksonville man on June 3.
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