So far, 2015 has been an unusually deadly year in Tampa. Gun violence has risen sharply during the first three months of the year in categories ranging from aggravated battery to fatal accidental shootings. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor has called for help in solving the crimes, but the societal problem remains: too many guns on the street and too few witnesses willing to speak up when someone is hurt or killed.
In a news conference this week, Castor asked the community to help stop gun violence. She laid out a set of alarming statistics to illustrate her case. In Tampa, police have recorded 235 gun crimes so far this year, up from 164 during the first three months of 2014. Homicides have more than doubled, jumping to 15 from seven at this time last year. Police also recorded increases in aggravated battery with a gun, firearm thefts and stolen guns recovered.
Castor expressed particular concern about the deaths of three school-age boys: Richard Newton, 14, who was killed when someone fired a gun at a birthday party; Jamylin Turner, 16, who was shot in a drive-by shooting while he played basketball; and Ikeim Boswell, 16, who died after he was accidentally shot by a friend who was showing off a gun. Witnesses have been irresponsibly silent.
So far, the Legislature's answer to the proliferation of guns in Florida is legislation that would make it easier to carry guns in more situations and more places, such as on college and university campuses. There is an astounding disconnect between Tallahassee politicians and people in communities where children are being gunned down. Gun rights advocates continue to trot out tired arguments about Second Amendment rights while mothers mourn children felled by gunfire or residents try to figure out how to protect themselves from errant bullets that missed their target in a neighbor's backyard shooting range. Just this week, the bay area was jolted by another fatal gun tragedy. This time, the victims were from Hudson, where a 12-year-old boy allegedly shot and killed his 6-year-old brother before turning the gun on himself. How many lives must be lost before lawmakers recognize the state's lax gun policies enable reckless behavior and accidents by allowing guns to proliferate in an increasing number of venues?
Tampa's increase in gun violence illustrates the answer to reducing gun-related crimes is not more guns, even if they are legally obtained. Separately, citizens have a duty to be proactive and report instances of illegal gun possession and usage and to help police solve crimes. With little expectation of help from Tallahassee, cooperation with law enforcement is perhaps the most powerful tool residents have in reducing violence involving guns.