It was the third day of the National Rifle Association's annual conference, April 27, and Tim Condon thought he was home free. He had already survived two days of sore feet, meddlesome security officers and zealous members of the Million Mom March yelling anti-gun slogans through a bull-horn.
Condon, a 53-year-old Tampa attorney, traveled to the Orange County Convention Center to hand out fliers and brochures promoting an idea both radical and conservative. Condon is a charter member of the Free State Project, a nonprofit organization that wants to enlist 20,000 Libertarian volunteers to relocate to one of the least-populated states, probably Wyoming or New Hampshire. The Libertarians, who are so conservative they don't believe in fighting the war on drugs any more than the war on Iraq, would then have a large enough voting block to dominate local and state governments. Free State advocates hope they can create their own kind of utopia -- a state that will appeal to gun owners as much as pot smokers and low-tax fanatics. Already 3,500 people have agreed to relocate.
But day three of the conference, security guards suddenly took an interest in Condon, who was standing underneath a covered walkway outside the Orange County Convention Center. According to Condon, the guards asked him to cease and desist. He refused, so they contacted an Orange County deputy, who wanted to know what Condon was distributing.
The deputy also asked Condon to stop handing out pamphlets, but he refused, citing the First Amendment and the fact that the Convention Center is a well-traveled, public building. Condon was told to move to the sidewalk, a half-mile strip along the Convention Center where protesting is often conducted. But he says the sidewalk afforded no opportunity to interact with NRA members who were getting off shuttles and going in the front door. The deputy called his supervisor who, according to Condon, called another supervisor. By this time, about eight security guards and several deputies surrounded Condon.
Finally, one of the deputies verbally warned Condon he was trespassing. When Condon kept handing out fliers, the deputy gave him a written citation. When Condon continued his distribution, deputies put him in handcuffs and marched him through the Convention Center. Twelve hours later, he was released from the 33rd Street jail on a $500 bond.
The arrest is absurd for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the authority providing for it, the state's trespassing law, pertains to "a person who, without being authorized or invited, willfully enters or remains upon a property."
Condon is a member of the NRA. He registered for the free convention two months ago. He was distributing information to members of his own clan. "How can you be guilty of trespassing on a piece of property you were invited to come onto?" asks Frederick W. Vollrath, Condon's attorney.
Vollrath says the case will likely be thrown out as soon as an Orange County prosecutor is assigned to it. He's prepared to point out the large number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions showing that Condon had a right to distribute information on the very spot he was arrested.
Condon, meanwhile, blames the NRA for his arrest. He says legislative-affairs director Glen Caroline warned him to stop distributing fliers and that a security officer told him the arrest was approved by NRA leadership.
"Somebody decided to make a decision," Condon says. "The idiots at the NRA had one of their own members, a pro-gun rights advocate, arrested."
The NRA failed to return phone calls. But the Convention Center's manager of security and transportation, Greg Forehand, agrees with Condon, saying he was arrested "on behalf of the NRA management staff."
"We don't like to trespass anyone," Forehand says. "It's not what we are all about here. We believe in family. We believe in hospitality. These things are very important to us."