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St. Petersburg City Council rejects symbolic measures to address gun violence

ST. PETERSBURG — When it comes to discussing ways to make it harder for criminals to use guns on city streets, Mayor Bill Foster is out to lunch.

Literally.

At least that was the case Thursday when the City Council considered symbolic actions to promote a ban on assault weapons and support for a national coalition against gun violence. And although much of the debate hinged on Foster's reluctance to join an initiative promoting stricter gun control, the mayor skipped the meeting to lunch with his wife, council member Karl Nurse said.

"I would have preferred that he would have been there," said Nurse, who had asked the council to urge Foster to sign onto the Mayors Against Illegal Guns initiative, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

After a spirited debate, the council ultimately rejected Nurse's request, along with another gun-related proposal from Steve Kornell, who wanted the council to advocate state and federal governments to renew the ban on assault weapons.

Nurse also requested the city undertake a regional campaign to encourage locals to record their guns' serial numbers to better track theft.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon said earlier in the meeting that St. Petersburg police retrieve "a little over a gun a day" in illegal weapons, but said it's impossible to track whether a gun has been stolen if its owner doesn't have the serial number.

Harmon added that he supports a ban on assault weapons, and also that he met with representatives from Bloomberg's group when they visited in April.

Council member Bill Dudley — who along with Herb Polson, Jeff Danner and Leslie Curran voted against both measures — said it's not the council's job to tell the mayor what to do.

Foster, for his part, said in an interview Wednesday night that he's "all for legal possession of guns under the Second Amendment" — he owns several himself. But he said he was reluctant to join Bloomberg's group because it's only "stating the obvious" and won't have enough of an effect on the Florida Legislature.

Instead, Foster said he'll meet with Harmon to discuss ways to encourage gun owners to secure their weapons and speak to lawmakers about increasing penalties for those who don't.

As far as a ban on assault weapons, Foster said people should have a right to own them.

Kornell said his proposal was "a starting point" to decreasing the amount of guns on the street.

Danner disagreed, calling the measure "ineffective" and saying the city shouldn't try to ban specific guns.

Kornell — who was supported by council Chairman Jim Kennedy, Wengay Newton and Nurse — maintained that the council needs to do something to address gun violence in the city.

"The chief said it's a good policy and a good law," he said. "To bow to political pressure is something I'm not going to do."

Times staff writers Michael Van Sickler and Jamal Thalji contributed to this story.

St. Petersburg City Council rejects symbolic measures to address gun violence 06/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2011 9:24pm]
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