Dick’s wants to sell guns at Gardens Mall; city fears horror scenarios


Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp wrote a 14-question letter to Dick’s that has gone unanswered.

The city manager and police chief worry gun and ammunition sales will make it easier for an active shooter.

If gun sales happen in The Gardens Mall, in a store around the corner from Mrs. Fields and Zales Jewelers, who’s going to be able to distinguish a shopper with a new gun from an armed person out to inflict harm?

READ: Two arrested in gun incident at Gardens Mall

That’s the unanswered question that worries the Palm Beach Gardens police chief and other city leaders, but Dick’s Sporting Goods has the law on its side.

READ: Shooting at Gardens Mall the result of ‘drug rip-offs’

Only state lawmakers, not local ones, can set the rules for gun sales, City Attorney Max Lohman told a representative of Dick’s Sporting Goods in a recent letter.

Neither the city nor the mall was ever eager to have Dick’s move into space held by Sears — an original tenant — but a panel of judges shut down objections to the leasing arrangement in July.

After the courts cleared the path for the sporting goods giant to move in, Dick’s broached the topic of gun sales. Specifically, in a letter received Oct. 5, Dick’s Loss Prevention Compliance Coordinator Lori Clark asked if there was “anything prohibiting the sale of firearms (long rifle only) and ammunition” in the second-floor space Dick’s plans to sublease from Sears.

The situation didn’t sit well with city leaders then, but concerns about Dick’s plan for gun sales escalated after a shooting in the mall’s parking lot two weeks ago. No one was injured, but stores temporarily locked their doors in the chaos. 

Also, a gun sale in the lot outside Saks Fifth Avenue “went bad” Monday, underscoring the misgivings. No one fired a weapon, but the fight that ensued among the men who picked the mall as a halfway meeting point caused shoppers to cram into storage areas and bathrooms for cover.

Neither representatives from Dick’s Sporting Goods nor from The Gardens Mall returned requests for comment Thursday.

City Manager Ron Ferris said he’d like Dick’s to rethink its decision.

“The staff just feels that the sale of any kind of weapon at the mall is just an inappropriate use. It has disregard for public safety,” Ferris said.

Dick’s takes some precautions. When someone buys a rifle and ammunition, the standard procedure is to have an employee walk him or her to the customer’s car, an architect working on the project told Ferris in a meeting this week.

“That does not alleviate our fears that someone who wishes to become an active shooter could load the weapon and walk right back into the mall,” Ferris said.

Although the city can’t restrict the sale of guns at the retail property, Sears and Dick’s will have to address police and fire safety issues, Ferris said.

Two weeks ago, Jupiter resident Barbara Sergent was shopping at the mall just before shots rang out in the parking lot. Police arrested two young men and said the shooting was not random. The encounter began with a punch and ended when one man grabbed a gun from his car and started shooting as the other drove away.

“The fact that it was a disagreement between the two individuals doesn’t make me feel any better because they were still outside shooting,” Sergent said.

Sergent said she occasionally allows her 14-year-old twin daughters to shop at the mall alone. But after this, she won’t be dropping them off any longer. “They are going to have to find another place to hang out. I won’t feel comfortable with them there given what has happened.”

Police Chief Stephen Stepp wants answers to 14 questions — which he posed in an Oct. 13 letter to Dick’s. So far, the letter and his questions have gone unanswered. Among them:

  • How will Dick’s prevent the visible presence of a long-gun from causing fear, panic and possible mistaken identification of an active shooter?
  • What safeguards are in place to avoid misidentification by a citizen pulling out a concealed weapon to shoot the perceived threat?
  • What protocols will be in place to prevent guns that are left in vehicles while patrons shop before or after transactions at Dick’s from being accessible to burglars?

Stepp said he has nothing against Dick’s and doesn’t want to thwart anyone’s Second Amendment rights. He just wants to know how Dick’s is going to maintain a safe, wholesome atmosphere at the mall, which sees 8 million to 10 million visitors per year.

With so many visitors and so little violent crime, the mall is one of the safest places in the city, he said.

Gander Mountain, the outdoor store off Northlake Boulevard that closed this summer, also sold guns. But that’s a different atmosphere than the mall, where families come to see Santa and the Easter bunny, to go out to dinner or to enjoy special events, Stepp said.

“You go with an expectation at the mall that you’re not going to see somebody walking through the mall or walking through the parking lot with firearms,” he said.

Gander Mountain management agreed to lock up guns in emergencies, such as hurricanes, to prevent looting, Stepp said. The ammunition was out in the open, which police were never really comfortable with, he said.

The regular sight of people walking around the mall with long-guns will make it difficult for security officers to keep up their guards, he said. Plus, a well-meaning Good Samaritan with a concealed carry permit could decide to take matters into his or her own hands, Stepp said.

“They may say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be the hero’ and take out this guy they perceived as a threat,” even if it’s someone who just bought a gun or is returning one, he said.

If people buy a gun at Dick’s and then leave it in the car while they walk the mall, a criminal could smash the window and get access, Stepp said. Citywide, 14 guns have been stolen from vehicles since Jan. 1, he said.

For the past five years, the city, Sears and mall owners Forbes/Cohen Florida Properties tangled in court over Sears’ plans to sublease space to Dick’s Sporting Goods. It ended when the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in Sears’ favor this summer.

The court decision left unresolved whether Dick’s potential sale of guns creates a “dangerous hazard,” violating the terms of an agreement between the mall and Sears.

Staff Writer Jennifer Sorentrue contributed to this report.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Jupiter police to get Active Shooter Response system
Jupiter police to get Active Shooter Response system

About $37,000 from federal forfeiture funds for the Jupiter police department to set up an Active Shooter Response system was approved unanimously Tuesday night. “An active shooter incident is a traumatic and rapidly evolving situation. It requires prompt and professional response to limit death and injury to victims, as well as eliminate...
Woman who took in Parkland shooter: ‘I wasn’t able to stop this tragedy’
Woman who took in Parkland shooter: ‘I wasn’t able to stop this tragedy’

Flanked by one of the most prominent womens’ rights attorneys in the nation, the Lantana-area woman who took in the Parkland school shooter broke her silence Tuesday, saying she did everything in her power to warn law enforcement of the violent Nikolas Cruz. “I wanted to protect, not only my own children, but...
NEW: 2 students arrested for weapons, 1 made threats at Stoneman Douglas
NEW: 2 students arrested for weapons, 1 made threats at Stoneman Douglas

One student is undergoing a mental evaluation after making threats on social media and two other students were arrested for bringing weapons to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Tuesday, more than a month after 17 students and staff members were fatally shot by former student Nikolas Cruz.  On Monday, a unidentified 10th-grade...
NEW: Why you can expect more BANG! from Wellington’s July 4 fireworks
NEW: Why you can expect more BANG! from Wellington’s July 4 fireworks

Wellington’s July 4 fireworks will have a little more oomph after the council voted to spend more money on the display. The unanimous vote March 13 approved a contract with Zambelli Fireworks for three years at a cost of $40,000 per year, up from the $35,000 the village spent most recently. The approval normally would not require discussion,...
Investigation finds no wrongdoing in Delray $1.1M lifeguard tower deal
Investigation finds no wrongdoing in Delray $1.1M lifeguard tower deal

Delray Beach fell on the radar of the Palm Beach County Inspector General after it spent $1.1 million on enhanced lifeguard towers , prompting a complaint that alleged the purchase was inappropriate and excessive. But the inspector general found that there was no wrongdoing in the deal, according...
More Stories