Eustis gun maker allowed to promote business during July 4 celebration

City Hall policy prohibited firearms during city-sponsored events

EUSTIS, Fla. – A Eustis gun maker got results after fighting City Hall and its policy that prohibited firearms at city-sponsored events.

Richard Pettis loves using his passion for firearms to help others. In the past, he's raised money for law enforcement agencies, local schools and cancer rallies.

He's now focusing his fundraising efforts on a local boy who was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago.

"When we build something here, we do not take money out of the fundraising for the cost of the weapon. We eat the cost of the weapon," Pettis said.

Pettis owns Central Florida Hydro Dipping, a company that provides custom hydro graphics, and he also builds firearms. He runs the small business in a shed in his backyard off State Road 44 in Eustis.

The gun maker is selling raffle tickets as part of his latest rifle charity drawing. He said the Ruger Precision .308 rifle dipped in a coyote fur pattern is worth $2,400.

"In this part of Florida, firearms are very important to a lot of people, and you build something like this, it brings a lot of attention to a lot of people," Pettis said.

Pettis was hoping to sell a lot of tickets Saturday during the City of Eustis' Hometown Celebration. He also wanted to promote his business and sell other products at his booth.

"If I can't show people what I do, then I can't afford to help other people. I don't make a lot of money doing this right now," Pettis said.

But Pettis ran into a problem with city leaders. There was a policy that prohibited firearms at city-sponsored events.

"While things may be legal, there are certain things that are not appropriate at certain types of events," Eustis City Manager Ron Nibert said.

Nibert told News 6 city officials modified the policy to allow him to display the inoperable rifle and sell raffle tickets with the proceeds going to charity, but he was not allowed to promote his business or sell firearms.

"It felt like it was a huge discrimination deal because I'm dealing with firearms and not homemade bars of soap or homemade lights or art," Pettis said. "This is my art, this is what I do for a living, and I should be able to advertise like anyone else."

Pettis got results by writing a letter to City Hall this week. City leaders determined their policy was breaking Florida law.

"We had some checking out, found out there was a state statute that prohibits us from putting such regulations in place, so obviously we have to follow the law," Nibert said.

Pettis can now display his inoperable rifles and raise money for charity during city-sponsored events.

"That's part of the reason why it is so important to us to be able to advertise what we do so it does help generate some business for our shop so we can be able to afford to do this kind of stuff," Pettis said.

The gun maker adds he hopes his story will encourage others to fight for what they believe.

"If you coward down, if you don't speak your word...if you believe in it, you need to stand up for it," he said.

City leaders tell News 6 Pettis filed for a vendor application and paid the required fee, like any other business participating in the event.

Pettis says he doesn't know how much money he's raised so far, but hopes he'll collect more than double what the rifle is worth. The drawing for the gun will be held on July 10.

The City of Eustis' Hometown Celebration will take place Saturday from 5 to 9:30 p.m. at Farren Park. 

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