Pistol Packin' Politicos

It's a fair bet that your favorite Dade big shot is a sure shot, too

It began peacefully enough on that late-November day in 1991. Miami Beach residents were exercising their Constitutional right to vote, as candidates for mayor and city commission stood by shaking hands and kissing babies in a final attempt to curry electoral favor.

That's what most of the candidates were doing, anyway. One of the mayoral hopefuls was packin' heat and lookin' for trouble.

Barry Kutun, a strident law-and-order candidate who'd adopted the slogan, "Feel Safe Again: Elect Kutun for Mayor," had received word that his little sister was involved in a fracas with some opposition campaign workers at a polling site on Collins Avenue.

It was payback time.
Kutun drove to the polling place, tucked a .22 caliber Beretta into the waistband of his trousers, and waded into the fray. No matter that police had already restored order. Nobody gets away with socking Barry Kutun's little sister in the mouth.

When an alert cop asked Kutun to hand over his pistol, the candidate refused. How dare they? he protested. He had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

After locking the Beretta inside his car for safekeeping, Kutun placed a call on his portable phone. "The fucking police are siding with my opponent again," he said to the unidentified person at the other end of the line, according to the police report. "Yeah, they beat up my sister and now they want to arrest me. I had my gun on the outside. The goddamn police just want to make it hard on me."

Kutun, a former state representative and onetime candidate for governor, eventually agreed to turn over the gun to police. For him, it was a pretty bad day all around. Opponent Seymour Gelber trounced him in the election.

Today Kutun is helping out another pistol-packing politician, Dade County Commissioner Joe Gersten. Kutun is a contributor and a fundraiser for the embattled Gersten, who is mounting a desperate bid to cling to a commission seat after a year of scandals stemming from an alleged crack-house encounter with a whore.

Even more recently, Gersten found himself embroiled in a gun-toting controversy. Last month a valet at the Four Ambassadors, a waterfront hotel/condominium complex on South Bayshore Drive, claimed Gersten had threatened to shoot him if he moved the commissioner's Mercedes from the front of the building, where it was blocking traffic.

To emphasize his point, Gersten allegedly removed a gun from his briefcase, shoved it into his waistband, and -- although accounts differ slightly -- made it clear that if the valet attempted to move the car, he did so at his own risk. "Touch my car and I'll shoot you," Gersten barked, according to one witness.

Investigators interviewed several people who were present at the scene, but state prosecutors are not expected to charge Gersten with any wrongdoing. Although most of the witnesses agreed the commissioner behaved like a pompous jerk, their versions of the incident were varied enough to make a conviction difficult.

The Gersten-Kutun connection, however, was not lost on other local politicians, who noted that the pair once served together in the state legislature.

Are they Dade County's Thelma and Louise?
It's not hard to envision them, after all, driving off into the Everglades at dusk, Joey at the wheel of the big red convertible, Barry at his side, both of them cackling like kids on too much cough syrup, leaving a trail of spent shell casings in their wake.

In light of the curious conjunction of the two local politicos and their handguns, it's tempting to wonder whether they represent a trend worth investigating. Just how many high-profile public servants have permits to carry concealed weapons, anyway? And how great is the potential danger to the general public? A consultation with the highest officials at the state capitol in Tallahassee, followed by an in-depth computer search for the names of more than 100 local public figures, provided the astounding answer.

Politicians love guns. They're plum nutty about em.
How else to explain the fact that the computer check through the state's Division of Licensing, which issues permits for concealed weapons, yielded fifteen percent of the 100-plus names. Fifteen percent! The figure is staggering when you consider that only one-half of one percent of the state's general population possess such permits. To put it another way: Politicians are nearly 30 times more likely to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon than is the average Floridian.

"I'm a strong believer that every good citizen should carry a gun," argues North Miami Beach Councilman John Kurzman, proud owner of what he describes as a .38 caliber police special. "If more people carried guns, there would be a heckuva lot less crime on the street, because criminals will get the idea that if they try to do something wrong, they'll get blown away."

While Kurzman has owned at least one gun since 1955, he says he hasn't yet "blown away" anybody himself. "I came close a few times," the councilman recalls. "I was held up once, but I was able to kick the guy in the face, so I didn't have to pull out my gun.

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