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Don't abandon gun-control debate

After 13 years of inactivity, Pasco commissioners decided Tuesday that another delay wouldn't matter and retreated from a public discussion of tighter controls of local firearm purchases.

Citing pending lawsuits involving Pinellas and Palm Beach counties, the Pasco County's legal staff suggested commissioners wait for the courts to rule. Commissioners postponed indefinitely a planned public hearing on whether to pursue a gun-control ordinance. The proposal likely would have mandated three-day waiting periods and background checks on firearm purchases conducted by private sellers at publicly accessible locations like flea markets and gun shows.

The delay is unfortunate, but understandable since enforcement is now in question. However, delay should not become synonymous with abandonment just because a similar ordinance is subject to a lawsuit in the Sixth Judicial Circuit. In that case, a Clearwater attorney sued Pinellas County last year, saying he unfairly had to wait four days to complete the purchase of a shotgun on private property.

In Palm Beach County, commissioners are suing Gov. Rick Scott, contending he overstepped his authority by signing 2011 legislation that punishes local government officials who usurp state firearm regulations.

The bullying of local governments by Scott isn't the only dubious activity here. After agreeing to the delay Tuesday, Commissioner Jack Mariano offered a substitute to the gun-show proposal –- an emergency resolution, borrowed from Collier County, in which commissioners state their public support for the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

"I'm not signing it,'' said Commissioner Pat Mulieri who had asked for consideration of a Pasco ordinance after the December shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

Mariano would better serve the public if he waited until September and then introduced a resolution supporting the U.S. Constitution. He can tie it to recognition of Sept. 17 as Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the document at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. By doing that, commissioners can honor the Constitution – all of it – instead of pandering to the politically influential supporters of a single amendment.

Meanwhile, commissioners should be diligent in pursuing their own ordinance. Florida voters gave local governments the ability to close the gun-show loophole in 1998, just six months after the shooting rampage of Hank Earl Carr that left three police officers and a 4-year-old boy dead. Carr, a convicted felon with a history of violent crime, had obtained a portion of his arsenal at gun shows without a background check. Carr killed one of the officers, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James B. Crooks, at the Interstate 75 exit on State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel.

After the 1998 constitutional amendment, commissioners ordered their staff to draft controls on gun purchases, but rejected the proposed ordinance 13 years ago in the face of a vocal opposition from gun owners.

That long-standing ambivalence should end. The next time the commission considers local control of gun purchases, it should give greater weight to the memory of Crooks than to the machinations of Mariano.

Don't abandon gun-control debate 03/06/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 4:56pm]
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