Clearwater mayor calls for assault weapons ban: ‘My prayers aren’t working’

However, the Republican’s symbolic resolution will almost certainly fail.
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a Republican, has asked for a City Council vote on a resolution asking congress for gun control measures.
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a Republican, has asked for a City Council vote on a resolution asking congress for gun control measures. [ DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sept. 16, 2019

CLEARWATER ― George Cretekos, the city’s Republican mayor, urged his fellow City Council members on Monday to support a sweeping resolution calling on Congress to ban “military-style” assault weapons and high capacity magazines; pass a national “red flag” law and expand gun background checks to cover private sales.

“I’ve gone to church, I’ve prayed,” Cretekos said. “My prayers aren’t working.”

Though state lawmakers have long banned Florida cities from regulating firearms on their own ― and the resolution’s passage is very much in doubt ― it was a remarkable symbolic move for the normally politically averse City Council.

“In the past, council and I have stayed away from national issues,” Cretekos said at Monday’s work session. “But I think this issue is something that we need to consider to let people know where we stand as a community to encourage safety.”

The resolution was not unique to the Tampa Bay area. In 2017, St. Petersburg, whose elected government is dominated by Democrats, also called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But the Clearwater mayor’s initiative was significant because of his party affiliation. For years, major gun legislation has been held up by Republicans in Congress. President Donald Trump, a Republican, routinely floats modest gun control measures after major mass shootings, but he’s never followed through.

Related story: Memo reveals a House Republican strategy on shootings: downplay white nationalism, blame left

Cretekos, a devout member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Clearwater, said leaders in Washington need to address the ongoing crisis.

Before the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Republican state lawmakers were adamantly anti-gun control. But in the wake of that attack, which killed 17 people, Tallahassee leaders pushed through modest gun measures, including a red flag law. That legislation allowed law enforcement to seek an injunction to confiscate weapons from a person deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

Related story: Rick Scott is set to sign the Legislature’s gun bill. Here’s what’s in it.

That same year, the Legislature voted against a proposed assault weapons ban, however. Although the term “assault weapon” is often poorly defined, quick-firing semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines factored in the massacres last month that left 31 dead in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas in just one weekend.

Cretekos said the nation should revisit the federal assault weapons ban that was on the books from 1994 until 2004. That law banned certain weapon modifications, and its magazine capacity limit of 10 rounds would likely have rendered illegal the ammunition clips used by the El Paso and Dayton shooters.

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However, critics of the 1994 law say it was easily skirted. For example, the law did not outlaw any guns manufactured before its implementation.

Cretekos needs two more council members to move the measure forward to a vote at Thursday’s meeting. On Monday, only Jay Polglaze said he supports it.

As mayor, Cretekos presides over city meetings, but he is just one of five votes on the council under Clearwater’s city manager system. His colleagues include two other registered Republicans, Dave Allbritton and Hoyt Hamilton; the party-unaffiliated Bob Cundiff and a Democrat, Polglaze.

Hamilton and Allbritton each said that although they support the resolution’s more modest proposals, they wouldn’t back a call for an assault weapons ban.

“When you outlaw guns, only outlaws are going to have guns,” Hamilton said.

Allbritton pointed to a Wikipedia summary of a 2013 study that showed that mass shootings, defined as incidents that leave at least four dead, involve semi-automatic rifles only a quarter of the time. In an interview, Allbritton also cited a PolitiFact story that showed how officials have taken advantage of Florida’s “red flag” law thousands of times since its inception.

Related story: How Florida’s red flag gun law works

Although Cundiff stayed mum during Monday’s discussion, he said in an interview that he would not support the resolution because to him it goes “way beyond the Constitutional limit.”

For Cretekos’ part, he said he offered his proposal with no idea how it would fare.

“I appeal to your conscience,” Cretekos said. “What are we going to say to our residents if something like an Odessa, or an El Paso or a Dayton happens in Clearwater?”