By Aamer Madhani
The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday against a gun shop whose owner declared it a "Muslim-free zone" earlier this month.
Andy Hallinan drew national media attention when he announced that he would "not arm and train those who wish to do harm to my fellow patriots" at his Florida Gun Supply in Inverness.
He made the declaration that he had "a moral and legal responsibility" to take action days after a Muslim-American man went on a shooting rampage at two Chattanooga, Tenn. military facilities by a gunman that left four Marines and one Navy sailor dead.
In the lawsuit, CAIR-FL asks the court to grant an injunction against the gun shop, prohibiting it from discriminating against Muslims or instituting any policies or practices that discriminate or segregate people on the basis of religion.
Officials at CAIR-FL criticized Hallinan after he made the declaration for discriminating against an entire religion for the act of one person. Hallinan subsequently agreed to meet and train Hassan Shibly, CAIR-FL's executive director.
But Hallinan later rescinded the invitation to Shibly after receiving a flood of e-mails and calls from people that he said warned him that CAIR had been put on the United Arab Emirates' terror list.
Shibly is not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, and he stressed that the lawsuit is about countering what he said was an "illegal" policy by the store to discriminate against Muslims.
The group says in its complaint, which was filed U.S. District Court in Ft. Lauderdale, that it represents Muslims "who have a right to purchase guns, browse guns, take classes on gun safety, shoot guns at the range, and visit the gun range for entertainment purposes and not be discriminated against."
"Unfortunately, he caved in to a lot of the anti-Muslim pressure and anti-Muslim base that he's pandering to," Shibly told USA TODAY. "The main issue is that we don't want segregation to rear its ugly head again in Florida. When he refused to reconsider his position, when he refused to reconsider to be educated, refused to engage this community, refused to respect American law, we had no choice but to bring forward this lawsuit."
Hallinan said in a brief telephone interview that he had not been served with the lawsuit and called the litigation "bullsh—."
His attorney, Robert Muise, of the American Freedom Law Center, called the lawsuit "bogus" and that Muslims are not being discriminated against. He said Hallinan told Shibley that he would not meet with him because of his concerns about the group CAIR and not because of his religion.
"Find in that complaint, one allegation of any Muslim who is discriminated against because of his religious beliefs," said Muise, whose firm identifies itself as a Judeo-Christian, public interest law firm. "You can't find any because the facts do not exist."
"If there is anyone that is being turned away, they are being turned away for public safety," Muise added. "It is bogus, frivolous and it will play itself out here over the coming weeks and months.
Muise noted that CAIR was implicated as an unindicted co-conspirator in 2007 case against the Chicago-area based Holy Land Foundation, which was found guilty of aiding Hamas, U.S.-designated terror organization.
(Shibly counters that inclusion on the list of unindicted co-conspirators was a tactical move by the prosecutors that chose to place dozens of Muslim organization as part of effort to broaden admissibility of hearsay evidence in the Holy Land case. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled that the Justice Department violated the Fifth Amendment rights of hundreds of Muslim groups and individuals when in the un-indicted co-conspirator list in 2007.)
On Tuesday, Muise said Hallinan was advised by federal agents to shut down his shop. They told Hallinan they were concerned about the intentions of a Muslim convert who had travelled from California to attend a class at Florida Gun Supply scheduled for that day, Muise said.
Chris Martin, who is a Navy veteran, told WFTS-TV that ATF agents approached him as he left his hotel to head to the gun store and informed him Hallinan had shuttered the store. Martin stopped by CAIR's Tampa office to tell the group about this plan, and officials with the organization informed him of his rights, Shibly said.
It is unclear how agents learned that Martin was coming.
"Somebody is trying to limit or prevent or restrict constitutional rights that I feel I fought for, I fought for those rights," Martin said.