January 30, 2018 | originally posted on Daily Commerical by Roxanne Brown
EUSTIS – Sometimes you really can fight city hall — and win.
Just ask Richard Pettis, owner of Central Florida Hydro-dipping, a gun and ammunition store just outside of Eustis on State Road 44 that specializes in the water transfer design printing service, custom firearms and instructional training.
But Pettis also leads many fundraising initiatives for organizations and charitable causes using his trade as a platform. He’s helped raise money for local schools, law enforcement, youth organizations and cancer awareness.
Pettis’ latest efforts center on Team Jay, an effort in support of a Lake County boy named Jay who has cancer.
“I don’t have a lot of money, never have and never will, because I spend it to help out wherever I can,” Pettis said.
So Pettis built a hyperlinked .308 Ruger precision rifle, hydro-dipped in coyote fur, worth about $2,400.
He began selling raffle tickets for the rifle and had asked Eustis City Hall about being a vendor at the city’s Fourth of July festivities on Saturday, where he planned to display the rifle – minus its shooting mechanism – to promote ticket sales.
That’s when Pettis was told that guns were prohibited from being displayed, sold or promoted at city sponsored events.
The same thing happened earlier this month, when Pettis was denied vendor space at the Eustis’ First Friday Street Party on June 23.
“I just want to be treated like any other small business that pays a vendor fee to attend a city event,” Pettis said.
In a letter he sent the city, Pettis wrote, “The only way for me to do the things we do is to make a profit. Without profit I cannot help. We have what is called the 2nd Amendment, the right to bear arms. How can you block me from being at any public event?”
City Manager Ron Neibert on Tuesday said the policy was created by city staff years ago.
Neibert said in Pettis’ case the city made a compromise and allowed him a vendor space as long as the rifle for charity auction is encased and locked, its mechanism zip tied and with the understanding that no other merchandise or logos be displayed or sold.
“It’s nice that he (Pettis) does those things to help out, but the city has certain policies,” Neibert said.
According to the city’s vendor application, “merchandise or service that may have implicit or explicit content of violence or obscenity (visual or verbal) and other weapons, such as knives, pepper spray, swords and martial arts weapons are prohibited.”
The application also explains that “The City of Eustis has the right to close your exhibit immediately without refund and has the right to accept or deny vendor exhibits.”
Neibert said, “None of the items listed as prohibited are against the law. It’s just a matter of what’s appropriate at city sponsored family events.”
Neibert said his plan was to garner feedback and guidance from city officials at the next council meeting July 6 about the policy.
On Wednesday, however, that vendor policy became obsolete when Eustis City Attorney Derek Schroth reviewed Florida State Statute 790.33.
“Now we know the rules. Cities can’t pass or make policies regarding the right to sell firearms or ammunition,” Neibert said. “Based on that, we can’t refuse him from being a vendor.”
On Wednesday, Pettis said he plans on participating at Saturday’s event at Ferran Park without worry or shame.
His application is turned in and his vendor fee paid.
Commissioner Anthony Sabatini, who had been rallying city officials, fellow commissioners and the public on Pettis’ behalf, applauded the outcome.
“I’m pleased to announce that Eustis’ prejudicial vendor application – which prohibited firearm displays and sales at our First Friday event – has been amended and the illegal gun restriction clause terminated, as of this morning,” Sabatini wrote on Facebook.