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St. Pete’s Lisa Wheeler-Bowman applauds Les Miller’s stand on guns–but won’t follow his lead

By Charlie Frago | Tampa City Hall Reporter
Published: March 2, 2018
SCOTT KEELER | TimesMembers of the St. Petersburg City Council hold hands as a show of unity during the swearing in of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman at St. Petersburg City Hall. Kriseman was sworn in for a second term, 1/2/18. Left to Right are: Amy Foster, Brandi Gabbard, Ed Montanari, Steve Kornell, Gina Driscoll, Charlie Gerdes, and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman.

When St. Petersburg City Council chairwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman woke up Friday morning and read about Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller's call for an assault weapon ban, she decided she wanted to pursue the same thing in the Sunshine City.

"I agree with what he's proposing," Wheeler-Bowman said. "What he's doing in Tampa. That's a brave thing."

Miller proposed a ban on assault-style weapons and an increase the waiting period to purchase a handgun from three days to five days. He also wants to make it a misdemeanor if someone threatens a Hillsborough County School, including on social media. Miller's idea will be discussed at the county commission meeting Wednesday.

Miller's move followed the Coral Gables mayor and city commissioners decision on Tuesday to pursue a local ban on assault weapons in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland.

Wheeler-Bowman knows first hand about gun violence: her son Cabretti was murdered in 2008. Last year, Wheeler-Bowman briefly tangled with Tallahassee's premption powers, introducing a resolution to restrict assault rifles before withdrawing it at the advice of city attorneys.

A 2011 state law prohibits localities from enacting their own gun rules and imposes a fine of $5,000 on any local official who tries. The governor can also remove local officials who try to enact local gun laws.

After Wheeler-Bowman spoke with the Tampa Bay Times Friday morning, she ran her idea by City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch who told her state law also prohibits city attorneys from defending her if she were to propose an assault weapon ban.

Instead, Wheeler-Bowman said, she'll work to put pressure on the Legislature to enact a ban and other gun control measures.

And she didn't want to risk being removed from office just two months after becoming chairwoman.

"If I was removed, I wouldn't be able to accomplish other things that I wanted to do in office. Even though, in my heart, I want to do it," Wheeler-Bowman said. "I wouldn't want to put my other colleagues in that position as well."

Across the bay, Tampa council member Mike Suarez, widely expected to make a run for mayor next year, said he wouldn't propose an assault weapon ban because, under current state law, it amounts to an empty gesture.

"Is City Council the place to do it? Probably not. It's a place where people can make a stand. Not make a difference on this issue," Suarez said.