Editor's note: Letters to the editor offer a significant contribution to the discussion of public policy and life in Tampa Bay. To recognize some of that work by our most engaged readers, the Times will select a letter of the month and the writers will be recognized at the end of the year. We will choose the finalists each month based on relevance on topical issues, persuasiveness and writing style. The writer's opinion does not need to match the editorial board's opinion on the issue to be nominated. But clarity of thinking, brevity and a sense of humor certainly helps.
Help us choose the letter of the month for March 2013 by reading through the three nominated letters and voting on the ballot at the bottom of the web page.
Gun reforms gaining ground in Congress | Feb. 23, editorial
Use concealed carry as a model
I was impressed with the irony of this editorial, which began by rooting for legislators to "wrestle free from the grip of the National Rifle Association," then advocated the same decades-old gun control agenda that has filled the NRA's coffers with cash. Yes, universal background checks might pass this time, as they should. But we should know by now that it is folly to try to ban things like military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, which millions of Americans lawfully possess and responsibly use.
It's time for gun control advocates to think more creatively about leveraging — not denigrating — America's unique culture of responsible gun ownership. Instead of bans, why not have the federal government regulate ownership of semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines by applying requirements like those for Florida permits for carrying a concealed weapon?
State concealed carry licensing typically requires citizens to register, get fingerprinted, prove training, and pass a background check. Set aside what you think of concealed carry as policy. The point is that millions of gun owners voluntarily submit to these requirements. Far from infringing on our rights, I and most other permit holders value the interface with law enforcement and are proud to be licensed. As a result, using the concealed carry model to tighten ownership of high-capacity firearms is much more politically feasible than any outright ban.
The vast majority of us also store our weapons securely and would report a theft. Make those mandatory as well, and it could significantly reduce the trafficking of the most capable firearms to people who shouldn't have them. The NRA will object, of course, but would be in the awkward position of arguing against laws requiring responsible gun owners to be responsible.
Henry Alan Stephenson, Tampa (March 1)
Bill pulls plug on cafes | March 16
Hypocrisy in drive against cafes
I am confused. Legislators say that Internet cafes must be closed because they prey on the elderly and are games of chance, not skill. But not one word has been said about slot machines at the large casinos - how are they different?
By the time most of us acquire these beautiful strands of gray on our heads, we have also acquired enough knowledge to be able to manage our own finances without the government's help. If I want to take $20 and go to a clean, quiet, friendly, nonsmoking place, play a few games of "chance" and have a snack with friends, nobody should be able to tell me I can't.
Why should I go to a casino and have my ears blasted by music, sit next to a human chimney, pay exorbitant prices for mediocre food and lose much more than that $20?
Is it just me, or is there a double standard here?
J.A. Baker, Palm Harbor (March 20)
Weatherford's pension overhaul hits snag in Senate | March 13
Pension change hurts Floridians
Though he claims it's an improvement, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford's proposal to make the Florida Retirement System into a 401(k) plan is a bad idea because it increases risk for government workers.
The existing retirement system guarantees fixed payments regardless of stock market performance. Under a 401(k) format, if the stock market collapses, retirement benefits collapse too. Think what would have happened if Social Security was tied to the stock market in 2008 when the Dow fell 50 percent. Both Social Security and the Florida Retirement System function as safety nets for Floridians. Weatherford wants to erode that safety net.
It is not just those who receive payments from the retirement system who would be adversely impacted if Weatherford's proposal goes through. Businesses that serve Florida retirees would also be impacted by the drop in retirement revenues. According to a 2012 report, about 800,000 Floridians benefit from the Florida Retirement System pension plan. Rational businessmen should be wary of a proposal that undercuts the spending power of 800,000 Floridians.
Weatherford's proposal isn't an improvement, it's a step backward and an attack on the middle-class lifestyle.
Bill Mitchell, Tampa (March 21)