Monday, May 21, 2018
Public safety

Florida gun laws shoot down our right to safety

Normally, we place great value on individual safety, on human life.

We'll pay generous taxes for law enforcement and fire protection long after we've let other public services go to pot.

In schools, it's not just dodgeball that gym teachers have banned. In some of my sons' phys ed classes, even tag has been forbidden.

And when a 14-year-old boy was seriously injured walking to Spring Hill's Explorer K-8 School last month? The neighbors said there should have been a bus for him. Never mind that cutting routes for kids who live close to school saves $800,000 a year. What is that compared to the safety of a child?

But bring guns into the argument, and suddenly a death or two isn't such a big deal, nothing that can't be prevented with a good, thorough National Rifle Association safety class.

Sure, we cherish our right to live securely. But not as much as our right to own guns.

Gun people, of course, say that firearms themselves ensure safety. In response, I present the following:

A promising, kind-hearted young woman was killed when a parishioner's Ruger 9mm pistol went off in the closet of a St. Petersburg church. It was an accident, we heard. No one was to blame.

Okay, but what was an item designed exclusively to kill people doing in a place built for a religion that teaches every single soul is sacred?

A boy in Ruskin was injured by a falling bullet that had been fired into the air on New Year's Eve.

"Here we have a 12-year-old kid fighting for his life because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," said a Hillsborough Sheriff's Office spokesman.

No, the boy was exactly where he was supposed to be, in his own front yard. He was hurt because some people think that mindlessly firing weapons into the air is good fun.

In Hernando last week, a brilliant woman, a professor at St. Petersburg College, was allegedly shot to death by her husband, a man with a drinking problem, anger issues and an arsenal of more than 100 guns.

Review all of the above incidents and tell me we don't have a problem. Guns may give a feeling of safety to each individual gun owner. But with so many owners, a few will inevitably be knuckleheads or worse, and we end up with a significant public hazard.

We've come to one of those points, as we do periodically, when such incidents pile up, when it becomes clear that our attitudes and laws regarding guns are absolutely nuts.

But don't expect a sensible response — a few more restrictions. Expect fewer because even normally courageous lawmakers, such as state Sens. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, cower in fear of the NRA.

"No legislator is going to step out of line and become a target for (former NRA president and longtime Tallahassee lobbyist) Marion Hammer. They'd be out of office the next election," said Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

Hayhoe is bracing himself for the introduction, sometime in the next few years, of an "open carry" bill, which is exactly what it sounds like — a law that would finally fulfill the NRA's dream of turning Florida into a modern Deadwood.

Meanwhile, we're dealing with the "stand your ground" law, which has resulted in a threefold increase in claims of justified homicide since it passed in 2005, Times staff writer John Barry recently reported, including a case where a guy killed a neighborhood dad in an argument over skateboarding.

And we're still sorting out the consequences of last year's "preemption" law, which reiterates that no local ordinance or administrative rule can be tougher than state gun laws, and adds that anyone trying to enforce these rules — a police officer, say, or a county commissioner — can personally face a steep fine.

That's why there's no stopping folks from bringing guns to Brooksville's city parks and why the Hernando County Commission recently decided it had no legal standing to stop the sale of guns out of a home in a quiet Spring Hill neighborhood.

Now we learn that we can't stop people from carrying guns in state forests, which are refuges for hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. A recent memo from an attorney with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warned the Florida Forest Service that "the clear language of the (preemption) statute renders any attempts to regulate firearms, with certain exceptions, null and void."

True, the memo says, it remains a misdemeanor to fire a gun in a public place. But because of confusion about what, exactly, qualifies as a public place — just campgrounds and parking lots, for example, or the entire forest — local Forest Service officials are ordering officers to tread lightly.

At one time, officers could fine people caught target shooting in the forest, said Winnie Schreiber, manager of the Withlacoochee Forestry Center. Now "we're asking them not to do that."

Better say "please."

Comments
Lava from Kilauea volcano enters ocean, creates toxic cloud

Lava from Kilauea volcano enters ocean, creates toxic cloud

PAHOA, Hawaii — White plumes of acid and extremely fine shards of glass billowed into the sky over Hawaii as molten rock from Kilauea volcano poured into the ocean, creating yet another hazard from an eruption that began more than two weeks ago. Auth...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Traffic lights restored at Pinellas Park intersection

Traffic lights restored at Pinellas Park intersection

PINELLAS PARK — Traffic lights have been restored at the intersection of 66th Street N and Park Boulevard, police said. About 5:45 p.m., Pinellas Park Police announced the outage. 
Updated: 4 hours ago
Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humor

Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humor

SANTA FE, Texas — A 17-year-old student looking forward to celebrating his family's new swimming pool and a substitute teacher whose home frequently hosted family gatherings were among the 10 people killed in a mass shooting at a Texas high sch...
Published: 05/20/18
Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

TAMPA — After a botched burglary, a fleeing suspect jumped into a canal to escape deputies Saturday afternoon, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The person has not yet been identified. The suspect tried to break into a business on...
Published: 05/19/18
Cuba: 110 died in plane crash, 3 survivors ‘critical’

Cuba: 110 died in plane crash, 3 survivors ‘critical’

HAVANA — The only three survivors of Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades were clinging to life Saturday, a day after their passenger jet crashed in a fireball in Havana’s rural outskirts with 113 people on board. In the first official dea...
Published: 05/19/18
He lured young men looking for weed. Their bodies turned up in a pig roaster.

He lured young men looking for weed. Their bodies turned up in a pig roaster.

Cosmo DiNardo declared "I am a savage no explanation needed" on social media seven months before police say he lured four young men to his family’s farm, shot them to death, ran one of them over with a backhoe and dumped three of their bodies in a pi...
Published: 05/19/18
Off-duty Largo firefighter arrested on DUI charge

Off-duty Largo firefighter arrested on DUI charge

DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies arrested an off-duty Largo firefighter found asleep at the wheel shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday.Patrol deputies saw a 2013 Dodge Dart, facing west and stopped in the intersection of Main Street and Bass Bou...
Published: 05/19/18
After Texas school shooting, Tampa Bay officials will step up security

After Texas school shooting, Tampa Bay officials will step up security

Hours after Friday’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, bay area law enforcement officials pledged to beef up school security for the last remaining days of the school year.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister held a news conference late Frid...
Published: 05/18/18
Largo police seek person of interest linked to missing man

Largo police seek person of interest linked to missing man

LARGO — Police are searching for a person of interest in the January disappearance of a 24-year-old man.The missing man is Timothy Patrick Cullen, 24, who Largo police said was last seen Jan. 22 at his home in the 500 block of Seventh Ave NE. His veh...
Published: 05/18/18
Pasco man accused of abusing 3-month-old infant

Pasco man accused of abusing 3-month-old infant

BAYONET POINT — A 26-year-old man was arrested Thursday on a charge of aggravated child abuse and accused of fracturing an infant’s skull, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Brandon Scott Madrishin told deputies that a 3-month-old infant ...
Published: 05/18/18