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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

After Newtown, Hillsborough state lawmakers not pushing gun control



The shooting in Newtown , Conn. has led many conservatives, such as Joe Scarborough and Rupert Murdoch, to say they are reassessing their views on gun control.

But in Florida, which has led the nation in passing gun-friendly legislation such as Stand-your-Ground, state lawmakers are mum.

During a Monday meeting of Hillsborough County lawmakers, the issue wasn’t discussed at length, only given a short moment of silence at the beginning of the meeting. Of the two bills discussed, one dealt with Tampa pensions, and the other dealt with extending a license with the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce to allow the organization to serve alcohol at some functions.

Asked about the lack of a substantive conversation on one of the worst mass shootings in American history, the meeting’s leader, Hillsborough delegation chair Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said enough time had been dedicated to the shooting.

“We’ve had quite a bit of conversation about that actually,” Young said during a lunch break. “We started our meeting with a moment of silence for the families and victims of that horrible shooting.”

Young then mentioned that the topic was addressed during the meeting by Hillsborough County Schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia. But when asked by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, about how to prevent future tragedies, Elia said that lawmakers should consider limiting access to violent video games. She didn’t mention guns.

Monday’s meeting was the chance for county agencies, non-profits and residents to comment and make requests from lawmakers about what type of laws should be passed in the upcoming session, which begins in March.

The agenda was set up weeks in advance, but speakers could alter what they planned to say to address the shooting. Only a few mentioned it. One was Susan Smith, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, who had planned to talk about schools.

But in light of the shooting she urged lawmakers to pass tougher restrictions.

“We live in a gun culture, when the rights of gun owners are paramount over the rights of our children,” Smith said. “It’s time for sensible gun safety issues in Florida , our kids deserve better.”

Mark Ober, Hillsborough’s state attorney, didn’t mention the issue.

Asked about the shooting after he spoke, Ober said he opposed the Stand-your-ground law that passed in 2006, and he doesn’t like open carry laws that allow guns to be visible. But he said doesn’t support a ban or tougher restrictions on assault and semi-automatic weapons. 

“I’ve had three murders this year from people with machetes,” Ober said. “Should we ban machetes.”

Asked how many murders his office has handled because of handguns, Ober said “quite a few.”

“I’m subject right now to having someone change my mind,” Ober said.

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee sent Col. Jim Pretivera to push his office’s priorities: more funding for the treatment of mental illness. He said Florida is 51st in the nation – behind Puerto Rico – in funding treatment. That deals somewhat with last week’s Newtown shooting, Pretivera said, but he had planned to discuss the issue before the shooting.

As for suggesting any gun bans or restrictions, Pretivera said it wasn’t the time to discuss the issue.

Lee, who was Senate President when the stand-your-ground law was passed in 2006, said he doesn’t see any reason to change that law.

“I haven’t heard anything to date to suggest that it needs revisions to it,” Lee said.

Lee said it was too soon to propose changes to any law after Friday’s shooting.

“There are a lot of people right now with ideas who are trying to get your attention with press conferences,” Lee said. “They’re going to save the world, they’re going to create more regulation, and they usually fail.”

[Last modified: Monday, December 17, 2012 2:46pm]


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