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Tampa Bay area mayors differ on gun control

Published Feb. 3, 2013

Nationwide, some of the most prominent voices making the case for new gun control legislation are big-city mayors.

There's New York's Michael Bloomberg and Boston's Thomas Menino, who started an advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, long before last year's mass murders of moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., and first-graders in Newtown, Conn.

And there's Chicago's Rahm Emanuel and Philadelphia's Michael A. Nutter, who have stopped their cities' pension funds from investing in companies that make or sell assault weapons. Emanuel has gone a step further, urging two major banks and six mutual fund managers to stop financing companies "that profit from gun violence."

But around the Tampa Bay area, opinions among the mayors of the region's largest cities are mixed.

In Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he "fully" supports President Barack Obama's proposals to pass a new ban on assault weapons, limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, require background checks for virtually all gun sales and further limit armor-piercing bullets.

Buckhorn hasn't taken steps to publicize that position widely, but said he would happily do so given the forum. He brings the subject up in speeches, such as a recent one to the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce. He doesn't shy away from criticizing the National Rifle Association as a "fringe group" and said he has a long record of trying to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

As a City Council member in 1998, Buckhorn campaigned for a statewide referendum to allow counties to close a loophole on unregulated sales at gun shows.

He did so after a convicted felon, Hank Earl Carr, used the loophole to buy an assault rifle that he used to kill his son. In the shooting rampage that followed, Carr murdered two veteran Tampa police detectives and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

"I have guns," Buckhorn said. "I believe in the Second Amendment, but there is absolutely no need for anyone to have assault weapons and high-capacity clips. You don't need to kill a quail with a 30-bullet magazine. There's nothing left of the quail, and for anyone to argue to the contrary is just absurd."

In St. Petersburg, Mayor Bill Foster supports background checks for gun buyers and a ban on armor-piercing bullets.

"The fact that somebody can make a bullet that can go through armor or three or four people is ridiculous," he said.

But Foster says he has no desire to take guns from law-abiding citizens and is not ready to support banning the sale of assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

"I'm not going to dictate what home defense mechanisms somebody in this country is allowed to have," he said.

Neither Buckhorn nor Foster have joined the more than 800-member Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which calls for maximum punishment for gun crimes, targeting dealers who illegally and knowingly sell guns to straw buyers, supporting cities' right to use data and technology to trace illegal guns, and keeping military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines off city streets.

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"I am a mayor against illegal guns," Foster said last week after taking part in a news conference to announce a program offering bounties for information that leads to the recovery of guns in the illegal possession of criminals. But, he notes, "you can't control the platform. … Once these things get started and you're on it, you have no control over the direction that it goes."

Buckhorn, likewise, said he didn't "want to be tied to someone else's agenda, even though I support a lot of what they do."

Largo Mayor Patricia Gerard has been the only Tampa Bay area mayor to join Mayors Against Illegal Guns. She said she did so several years ago, and said the NRA made an issue of it when she came up for her third term in office. (She was re-elected automatically when no one qualified to run against her.)

"I've taken some flak from some pretty scary people from time to time about being a member, but I think they're doing some good work," she said. "Politically, it's not a good thing to do around here."

While Gerard said it's "kind of disappointing" that other bay area mayors have not joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, she said it only makes sense to ban the sale of assault weapons and magazines that hold scores of rounds of ammunition.

"I'm not at all interested in taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, but part of my job as mayor is protecting my law enforcement officers and my citizens," she said. She noted that the Second Amendment was written in the age of muskets, not firearms loaded with 30 to 40 rounds of ammunition.

"They didn't have guns where you could walk into a classroom and fire off 100 rounds in a minute," she said. The controls that the Obama administration has proposed "should not impact any law-abiding citizen who wants to get a hunting rifle."

Last week, Gerard, Buckhorn, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and Pinellas Park Mayor Sandra Bradbury were among more than 200 mayors nationwide to put their names on a letter from the U.S. Conference of Mayors to Obama and Congress.

It asked federal officials to pass legislation being prepared by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, strengthen and close loopholes in the national background check system and strengthen the penalties for straw purchases of guns.

Cretekos said he hasn't seen all the details and there are aspects of Feinstein's legislation that he doesn't know that he would support once it's presented to Congress, but he generally understands where she's going on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

"When we're talking about assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, I question the need for somebody at home to have those weapons," he said.

"I think all of us react to what happened in Colorado and what happened in Connecticut, and fortunately, situations like that haven't occurred in the Tampa Bay area," Cretekos said. "Hopefully, they never will."

Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 226-3403.


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