Last July, owner Andrew Hallinan of Florida Gun Supply of Inverness decided that he no longer wanted to arm and train anyone who wished to harm his “fellow patriots.” He said his decision was a result of the July 16 shootings in Chattanooga, Tenn., that killed five U.S. military personnel. So he placed a sign in his store window declaring his shop a “Muslim-Free Zone.”
It garnered a lot of media attention as well as that of a Muslim advocacy group, Counsel on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), that promptly filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the exclusionary measure amounted to religious discrimination and violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. CAIR was seeking an injunction against the store prohibiting discrimination against Muslims.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom ruled that because Florida Gun Supply’s policy did not present an imminent and concrete threat to Muslim people, she did not have the authority to make a decision on the case, according to her order quashing the complaint, which was filed November 23, 2015, in federal court in Miami.
“The complaint contains only bald, conclusory allegations devoid of factual enhancement,” the order says. The plaintiff could not prove discrimination against any of its members at the store, but the judge did acknowledge that the Muslim-free zone policy could be a violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act.
Hallinan told The Washington Post in an interview that he believes there are peaceful Muslims and he would sell weapons to those followers of Islam who did not adhere to a literal interpretation of the Koran. Still, he said he cannot arm and train a person who believes in his or her heart it’s the right thing to kill religious “unbelievers.”
“We get to know each and every one of our customers,” he said. “If the hair on the back of our neck raises for any person — regardless of their race or religion or anything else — we will not sell to them. If I came to believe this person didn’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Koran, then they would, in theory, be able to purchase a gun.”
CAIR, however, is not going away. Thania Clevenger, the Civil Rights Director for CAIR Florida, said her organization lost because of legal standing, not because of the merit of its argument. Comparing the “Muslim-free” sign to Jim Crow-era businesses having “whites only” signs on their front doors, she said the fight is “far from over.”
“The bottom line is we actually find the opinion from the judge to be in our favor,” Clevenger said, noting that the order says that Title II of the Civil Rights Act is designed to address similar circumstances. “We’ll be filing an appeal or other type of motion to have the case reconsidered. It’s very early on in the proceedings.”
Clevenger said CAIR has 15 to 30 days to file its next motion.