Mayors pushing to keep guns out of wrong hands

ST. PETERSBURG — Officer David Crawford was shot and killed by someone who should not have been carrying a weapon. Twenty-eight days earlier, so were Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz.

The same was true for Tampa officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab just a few months before that, and two other Florida law enforcement officers lost this year.

In a small downtown event Wednesday, Mayors Against Illegal Guns highlighted this tragic toll, calling for federal legislation that would make it harder for people barred from owning guns to get them.

The nationwide coalition of mayors is petitioning for two changes at the federal level:

• Fix the background check system to penalize states that don't send records on prohibited purchasers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

• Require a background check for every gun sale, eliminating loopholes.

"We're against people who are prohibited by law from owning and purchasing guns," said Omar Samaha, who has traveled across the country with the group. "We're basically in favor of supporting a law that already exists."

He said the changes are modest but would safe lives. He emphasized that the group is not against the Second Amendment or gun ownership.

Samaha knows all too well what can happen when a person who shouldn't have a gun gets one.

His sister, 18-year-old Reema Samaha, was one of 32 people killed at Virginia Tech in 2007. Seung-Hui Cho had a history of serious mental illness, but his records were never sent to the national background check database and he was able to obtain the weapons.

More recently, Jared Loughner, accused of killing six and wounding 13 in Arizona, was able to get a gun. He also should have been barred from purchasing a firearm, according to the group.

The group says illegal guns are a factor in numerous murders every year.

Thirty-year St. Petersburg resident Charyl Gargel, 71, picked up on one of the group's primary points on Wednesday morning.

"Nobody seems to care that 34 Americans are killed every day," she said. "That's more than Iraq and Afghanistan put together. I saw there is a war going on in America."

The group includes more than 550 mayors in nationwide, including mayors in Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Miami.

In Tampa Bay, Largo Mayor Patricia Gerard is the only member.

St. Petersburg Council member Karl Nurse was the only city official to come out on Wednesday.

"We should be taking a rational look at what we can do to keep guns out of the hands of children, criminals and the mentally ill," he said. "This step here is the most modest step."

Nurse said he asked Mayor Bill Foster to participate in the group, but he wasn't willing.

Mayors pushing to keep guns out of wrong hands 04/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 1:56pm]

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