PEMBROKE PINES (CBSMiami) – A week after mass shootings in El Paso Texas and Dayton Ohio claimed more than two dozen lives, billboards along I-95 are promoting the Pembroke Pines Gun Show to be held this weekend at the city’s taxpayer funded Charles Dodge City Center, just feet from City Hall.
Several residents and activists told city commissioners on Wednesday that they believe the gun show doesn’t belong here.
“The City Center Pembroke Pines should never be the place for a gun show that sells weapons of war,” said Lourdes Diaz, a Pembroke Pines resident and Director of the League of Women Voters.
“Now is the time for courage,” said Katy Syed, President of the League of Women Voters. “You are afraid of lawsuits from gun show promoters. But I submit to you that there is more to fear from voters who have had enough.”
Commissioners said they don’t want the gun show here but said their attorney is advising them that they have a signed contract and that if they cancelled the show they could possibly run afoul of a state law that prohibits elected officials from making regulations on guns.
“We will uphold the law however there are two more gun shows scheduled. We don’t have the right by the law to them no,” said Mayor Frank Ortis.
Commissioner Angelo Castillo said it’s a legal issue.
“The lawyers are saying now that we have a contact that has to be honored,” Castillo said. “It’s a very difficult place to be.”
Diaz doesn’t buy it.
“I’m frustrated that they’re allowing themselves to think their hands are tied and they’re not fighting,” Diaz said.
The owner of the gun show, Khaled Akkawi, said they are a legal event that bends over backwards to follow the law. The contract between the city and Akkawi shows that the contract was signed in January 2019 and Florida Gun Shows is paying more than $38,000 to host the two-day event.
“We do background checks on every firearm that changes hands,” Akkawi said. “There’s a waiting period. Everything that happens at the gun show is what happens at gun stores in Broward County.”
Akkawi said for years the gun shows were held at the War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale before that city ended their contract. Akkawi sued the city over the decision. But Fort Lauderdale’s City Attorney said Florida Gun Shows voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit.
Akkawi said the gun show has nothing to do with the recent mass shootings.
“What does the gun show have to do with it?” Akkawi said. “We are a legal event. We do everything by the book.”
Diaz believes it’s not the right image for the city.
“If somebody wants to buy a gun store, go to a gun store,” Diaz said. “This is not a gun store.”
Pembroke Pines contracts with a third party to book events for the city center. Castillo said the focus is on family friendly events and while they’re pleased overall with the job the event coordinator has done they want to make sure that gun shows are not booked in the future.
The owner of the gun show said they have events planned for this venue through 2020. City commissioners made it clear they want to see what they can do to make this a one-time event.