To these Tampa Bay residents, handgun violence is more than an abstract issue in a distant court. It's a part of their lives that has filled them with panic, grief or adrenalin. On the same day lawyers presented oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court on a handgun ban, these local people explained how guns have affected them.
Ken Zellers, Thonotosassa,
gun range owner
THONOTOSASSA — His white beard and rectangular reading glasses give him a resemblance to many of the historical figures he reveres.
Ken Zellers, 57, doesn't own a television and just finished a biography on George Washington.
He also owns the Indoor Shooting Company — "Tampa Bay's Only Air-Conditioned Range" — with a neon orange gun-shaped road sign outside. The brochure reads, "It is our goal to not promote firearm ownership, for that is a personal decision."
As arguments on guns echo in a high courtroom, Zellers welcomes the debate as his hero Benjamin Franklin might have. The Ruger 9 mm, .38-caliber Special and .357-caliber Magnum on his store's gun rack make it clear that Zellers honors each word of the Second Amendment. But he has room for reasonable restrictions, he said, like prohibiting guns in courtrooms but not necessarily airplanes. He has a framed Ronald Reagan portrait, but his views lean Libertarian.
His fundamental belief is that "the majority of people are good" and should be trusted with freedoms, he said.
He bought a J.C. Higgins .22-caliber rifle for $20 from a pawn shop at 14. His parents had no problem with that, but they made him return a BB gun he bought later because they knew he wouldn't treat it with the same respect.
A former Hillsborough County parks maintenance worker, he views a gun the same way a hockey player views his stick or a farmer, a truck. It's a tool and nothing more. If he lived on a tropical beach, he said, he wouldn't own one.
But guns fit his life because he's a range owner who lives in a metropolitan area where he doesn't feel safe walking at night.
It's a right he doesn't take lightly. His range offers target practice and training classes, but unlike some others, doesn't sell guns.
Roy Pierce, San Antonio mayor
SAN ANTONIO, Fla. — Roy Pierce wishes guns didn't exist. Then no one would need one.
But they do exist. And people sometimes need them for protection.
He should know. Pierce, now the mayor of the small Pasco County town of San Antonio, used to be a cop.
During his 20-year law enforcement career that spanned three states, Pierce was in situations that required him to shoot or be shot.
In one case, he pulled over a guy who ran a red light and found himself in a fight.
The men fought, hand to hand, rolling half a block on the Tampa pavement. Then the man got Pierce's revolver and had it at his stomach.
Pierce was holding onto the chamber so it couldn't turn and fire, but his hands were so sweaty, his grip slipping.
Somehow he got control and fired, wounding the man.
He retired from the Tampa Police Department in 1992 and has been San Antonio's mayor since 1993.
Pierce, 57, also runs a private investigation company.
Before studying criminal justice in college, Pierce's only weapon experience had been a BB gun. Now, guns are a part of him. He says cities where citizens are armed have low crime rates.
"In the news, you only hear of the tragedies that come because of guns," he said. "But you don't hear the reports of people who have been saved by them."
Law-abiding people should be allowed to own guns if they take safety courses and only own a gun if they are prepared to kill, he said. Not everyone can handle that responsibility.
"I have never been threatened by an honest citizen who has a gun," Pierce said.
Patti Franzese, St. Petersburg, salon owner
ST. PETERSBURG — Patti Franzese will never forget how it felt to look down the gun barrel.
It was a Saturday evening in 2006. She and her 11-year-old daughter were carjacked in the parking lot of the Sports Authority on Tyrone Boulevard. A 17-year-old boy aimed a loaded gun at her, 2 inches from her face.
She remembers jumping out of the car, and watching until her daughter also got out safely.
She also remembers the desire she felt afterward for a gun of her own — to keep her family safe.
So the 43-year-old salon owner started with a stun gun. But one evening, as she loaded bags into her car at Target, a store worker quietly walked up behind her to get her buggy.
Not realizing his intent, she almost stunned him.
"It made me realize, if I had a gun, what would I do?'' she said. "There would be too much of a chance I'd be trigger happy because of still being frightened. I realized, no, that was not the answer for me.''
While Franzese supports harsher penalties for juvenile gun crimes — the boy who stole her Mercedes got five years' probation — Her belief in the right to bear arms remains unchanged.
"It's just like a good drug that has come out on the market,'' she said. "Somebody is going to&misuse it somehow. It will help people but it's also going to hurt people."