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St. Petersburg shootings spur gun buyback plan

ST. PETERSBURG — In response to a string of recent shootings, police and community activists today will announce a "gun buyback" program aimed at reducing the number of guns on the streets.

The initiative is one of several measures that have been proposed since 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton was shot to death April 5 by gunmen who peppered her Preston Avenue home with more than 50 rounds from semiautomatic weapons.

Police later seized a cache of weapons, including two AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, when they arrested three suspects in the case.

"I wonder what would have happened had someone told on that cache of weapons before they had a chance to use them," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

Rouson hopes a gun buyback and other programs will encourage people to report crime and change a long-standing "no snitching" culture in St. Petersburg's black community.

Rouson said he will be in Tallahassee today but was writing a statement to be read at a morning news conference at City Hall. Details of the program were unavailable. Police declined to comment.

Several Florida counties, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, have experimented with gun buybacks, with mixed success. The programs have been known to fizzle out or run out of funds after a few years.

St. Petersburg NAACP president Ray Tampa said he's also proposing a statewide "Paris Line" — in the spirit of the Amber Alert — to encourage people to report illegal guns and gangs in their neighborhoods. He and Rouson have discussed the proposal but no legislation has been drafted.

Tampa said he also would like the city to change Preston Avenue to Paris Avenue in memory of the slain girl.

Rouson said he also plans to distribute free, disposable video cameras in St. Petersburg to encourage people to record drug deals, gang fights and other illegal activity to turn over to police.

An NAACP-sponsored march against violence starts at 10 a.m. Saturday in Bartlett Park. It follows a string of shootings that has shaken the community.

On Monday, a Lexus with bullet holes from semiautomatic gunfire was found in an 18th Avenue S church parking lot after an apparent chase and reports of shots being fired in at least four locations in the city. Tuesday night, a 16-year-old bystander watching a fight in Childs Park was wounded when someone fired into the crowd.

Rouson said he is frustrated. "Frankly, I'm about tired of the marching," Rouson said. "Instead of marching in streets, we need to be marching into somebody's house or marching into someone's apartment. There's more of us than there is of them."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

On the Web

To read previous

coverage of the shooting death of Paris Whitehead-Hamilton and other violence in St. Petersburg, go to links.

tampabay.com

St. Petersburg shootings spur gun buyback plan 04/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 12:20am]

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