After CT school massacre, Hillsborough citizens call for legislative changes

12/17/12 Janelle Irwin
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As parents and children come to terms with the Connecticut school shooting that claimed the lives of twenty students on Friday, some people are asking Florida lawmakers to consider public safety legislation. During the Hillsborough County legislative delegation meeting Monday in downtown Tampa, Republican state Representative Dana Young said she won’t propose any gun regulations until she sees evidence that it will make a difference.

“Obviously this is something that is in the national press and in the local press so it’s being discussed widely, but this is not something that I’m willing to make a comment on at this time.”

What Young does want to see, though, is more gun safety education.

“I think that all those who own firearms have a responsibility to educate themselves on the proper usage and, above that, the safety in operating those weapons and I do think that gun safety is a very important topic that should be discussed at all levels and I think you’ll find that people on both sides of this issue are very strong advocates for gun safety and gun education.”

Hillsborough County increased security at schools today, pulling resources from its marine and canine units. But the boost in police presence isn’t feasible on a continued basis. Public education advocate Susan Smith accused the Republican-led legislative delegation of supporting dangerous, gun-friendly legislation.

“We live in a gun culture where the rights of gun owners and gun manufacturers are paramount over the rights and safety of our children. Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis are but two Florida children recently murdered whose names have been added to the shameful list of innocents who have died because of reckless gun policies. It’s time for sensible gun safety policies in Florida. Our children deserve better.”

There will soon be one million gun owners in Florida with concealed carry permits. Tim Heberlein, executive director of the group Florida Consumer Action Network, has a personal stake in the Aurora movie theater shooting over the summer. A friend was injured in the attack. He came in an official capacity to address legislators about things like healthcare and election reform, and as a concerned citizen to urge them to take action when it comes to responsible gun policy.

“We live in a culture of violence right now and people are afraid and I think there needs to be some very proactive measures by our state legislature to address these issues. Instead of touting our record of one million concealed carry permits, we really need to be finding solutions that prevent tragedies like that from coming to Florida.”

Some officials took a hard line on the issue too. James Previtara, a Colonel with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency will oppose NRA-backed legislation letting people with concealed carry permits carry their weapons visibly on the street. He also suggested the state funnel some money back into the mental health system.

“The effect of cuts to community based mental health treatment and monies that supplement that are posing a risk to public safety and I believe that in the weeks to come, as we learn more about the tragedy in Connecticut that you will see that there is an impact there.”

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia emphasized the need for a close-up evaluation of how to make schools safer, including doing something about kids playing violent video games.

“The hours that have been documented that children spend in front of them and the particular actions that get reinforced by those games, if you look at them you should draw your own conclusion, but I would suggest that this is something that we clearly – we can address a lot of issues, but until we start looking at the cause of some of these things that are occurring at not only our schools, but clearly our schools and we have a terrible example of that tragedy, than we aren’t addressing the issue.”

With conversation about gun-related violence escalating in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the Florida Legislature would be hard pressed to ignore pressure from gun control advocates. Ken Atwater, president of Hillsborough Community College, urged lawmakers to give thoughtful consideration to any public safety measures brought before them in the upcoming legislative session.

“I hope you’ll take seriously your job in legislation about maintaining our students’ and staff’s safety. As items come before you that’s going to increase their safety, I hope you’ll give that serious consideration and support as we try to ensure that we have an environment where people can be safe especially in [light] of what’s going on in the country.”

During an address on Friday, President Barack Obama hinted at a federal gun control initiative when he said meaningful action needs to be taken to prevent further tragedies regardless of politics. Over the weekend Obama reiterated that at a vigil with residents of Newtown where the shooting occurred.

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Is Rep. Young consistent in her standards for legislation? If so, she will advocate repealing laws against murder, until she has evidence that such laws make a difference. It seems that there is a lot of murder going on, so maybe she'll suggest that we free up our police to do worthwhile things instead of pursuing people who will commit murder regardless of what the law says.