Florida Gun Expo draws crowd
The event was held in a community center owned by the city of Ocala, in a neighborhood suffering from gun violence.
David Martin views handguns on display at the ED Croskey Center on Jan. 29. [Jennifer Hunt Murty/Ocala Gazette]
The Florida Gun Expo, organized by Edward Valetin out of Boca Raton, was held Jan. 28 and 29 at the ED Croskey Center, a city-owned community center usually used for games, community meetings and concerts.
Adjacent to the center is the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Complex, a 24-acre park that offers basketball courts, exercise equipment, grills, a playground, racquetball, tennis courts, a pavilion with picnic tables, a Little League/Babe Ruth baseball field and a football/soccer field.
The city property is located in a neighborhood that of late has been suffering from an unusually high level of gun violence. On Jan. 1, six people were shot nearby, and two died.
The majority of attendees the Gazette spoke to while at the gun show found out about it through signs placed by the event organizer near intersections close to the community center.
At the door, there was a large sign that read, “Warning-All weapons must be unloaded before entering the building and no loose ammo in the show! This includes concealed weapon permit holders. All guns must be checked in at the security table.”
One attendee, Shannon Cowart, told the Gazette she had bought bullets at the gun expo. Cowart said she grew up around guns her whole life, but had obtained her carry permit in the “past year or two.”
Some were at the event to sell guns, scopes, or ammunition. One man, who refused to give his name, walked around the parking lot adjacent to the community center and park, where children played, with a sign that said “223 Ammo” “5.6 ammo” “4 sale.” He carried a scope in his hands and had a target rifle hanging from his shoulder.
Ocala Police Department Officer Robert Crossman watched from his vehicle. He explained that the parking lot for the gun show was used for the park also, so he was watching to make sure no prohibited transactions took place in the parking lot.
While the Gazette spoke with the officer, people walked by with guns and children crossed paths to and from the park and the gun show.
Inside, one shopper, David Martin, who recently retired and moved to Dunnellon, approximately a year ago from Georgia, told the Gazette he liked gun shows because shoppers could see the “latest and greatest-all in one place.”
Martin spoke in favor of recent legislation proposed to institute a constitutional right to carry. “Everyone who is able, physically and mentally, should have a gun,” he said.
According to the contract between the city and the event organizer, the organizer was given use of the premises under an agreement with the Ocala Police Chief, Michael Balken, to provide officers for security at the rate of anywhere from $50 to $75 an hour depending on the “risk factor.”
According to the city’s code of ordinances, the use of city facilities is available for the following groups and purposes:
Civic, educational or community service group–meaning any group primarily devoted to the advancement of civic, educational or community service purposes.
Nonresident civic, educational or community service group–meaning a group primarily devoted to the advancement of civic, educational or community service purposes whose current membership, as of 30 days prior to the date on which the facility is requested to be used, is comprised of less than 66 percent of citizens of the city.
Political activities–meaning activities engaged in by candidates for public office, political groups, political party activities or political committees.
Resident civic, educational or community service groups–meaning a group primarily devoted to the advancement of civic, educational or community service purposes whose current membership, as of 30 days prior to the date on which the facility is requested to be used, is comprised of more than 66 percent of citizens of the city.
Councilman, Ire Bethea, who represents the district where the community center is located told the Gazette, “Personally, I do not feel it was appropriate to host this event at our community center. However, by the time I was made aware, the city had already entered into a rental agreement with the vendor, and we were obligated to honor that contract. It is my understanding that the event permit required the vendor to hire and pay for additional law enforcement personnel for both days the event took place.”
“I have spoken to the City Manager, and we agree that moving forward, the rental of city-owned community center space will be limited to events that are family friendly,” Bethea said.