Dear Mayor Foster,
Can we talk guns?
When it comes to gun violence, your first term as mayor of St. Petersburg has been a brutal one. Just this year, three of the city's finest were killed by people with guns they should not have had. Not two weeks ago, a security officer was shot dead.
In your sister city across the bay, two more police officers were similarly murdered last summer. The man arrested was a felon who, again, should not have had a gun.
Tragedy after tragedy. And beyond belief.
Some 30,000 Americans die in gun-related violence every year. Mention Columbine, Virginia Tech or the Tucson shootings, and everyone knows the scenes of horror you're talking about.
It should go without saying that many law-abiding citizens own guns legally and handle them responsibly. They are not the problem. Guns in the wrong hands are the problem.
So your city recently got a visit from a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
New York's Michael Bloomberg, Boston's Thomas Menino and a handful of other mayors started the fledgling group in 2006, and now it includes more than 500 mayors from Atlanta to Santa Diego. The bipartisan group's aim: "Stopping the flow of illegal guns into America's cities." Its goals include punishing criminals who use or traffic in illegal guns, holding disreputable gun dealers accountable and making it easier for cities to stop illegal guns.
Hard to argue with that.
The group says it supports the Second Amendment and gun ownership rights, and believes the vast majority of gun dealers and owners carefully follow the law. "The issue of illegal guns is not conservative or liberal; it is an issue of law and order — and life or death," the web site says.
As in, it's about stopping violent criminals from being able to easily get guns, not about curbing private gun ownership. It's about stopping what we're seeing on our streets.
Your fellow mayors in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tallahassee have joined. Your own police chief supports them. You, however, seem reluctant.
You've said you don't know enough about the group, and anyway, the Legislature has the ultimate say on gun issues.
This is certainly not for the politically gun-shy. The National Rifle Association has been known to try to bully mayors who join, urging them to quit and calling the group antigun. An elected official might be chastened by this, given the gun lobby's seemingly limitless political power.
Not you, I hope.
Members of your own City Council are trying to do something about the violence. Council member Karl Nurse wants the board to officially ask you to join the mayors group. Even more useful will be the push for a regional public education campaign aimed at stemming the flow of stolen guns — guns that often come from burglaries and thefts.
The campaign would focus on getting legal gun owners to secure their weapons from being stolen and to write down serial numbers in case they are. Police know that too many lost and stolen firearms never get reported.
Maybe adding your name to the roster of Mayors Against Illegal Guns would be something of a symbolic gesture.
But even symbolically, it matters where the people we elect — as in, you — stand when it comes to the violence playing out on our streets.