New St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman wants to crack down on illegal guns
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is saying no to illegal guns in his city.
During a press conference Thursday at City Hall, Kriseman signed a pledge to crack down on people who own or sell weapons under the legal radar.
“We need to change the culture that exists in this community. We need to change the culture regarding illegal guns and regarding gun violence. We want people to come to this city. We encourage people to come to this city, but if you’re coming to this city with an illegal gun, if you’re coming to this city to engage in gun violence, we don’t want you. You’re not welcome here.”
But the Mayors Against Illegal Guns pledge, signed previously by 44 other Mayors from across the state, is mostly symbolic in a city government that is hindered by a Florida statute giving the state sole authority of gun regulations.
“We are limited because of action that was taken by the legislature as far as what we can do from an ordinance stand point which is a shame because no one knows what’s happening at the local level better than the people who are local.”
But Interim Chief of Police David DeKay says there are some administrative ways the city can help get guns, both legal and illegal, off the streets.
“We’ve had the gun bounding program in place where we solicit tips from citizens. And there’s also, we haven’t done a gun buy back similar to that Hillsborough has done, but we’re looking into that. We’re always trying to do different things. I know early last year we had a month long amnesty program where folks could bring in weapons to give to us and we would later destroy. There’s different programs, they have different effects.”
The amnesty program protects individuals from being prosecuted for turning in an unregistered weapon, but it doesn't stop the city from investigating whether or not the firearm was used in the commission of a crime. That could keep some people in possession of an illegal gun from turning it over. Despite the police department and Mayor’s hands being largely tied, Kriseman does think his signature on the statement of principles condemning illegal guns will make a difference.
“In my mind, the culture in which you live, the philosophy of your community, the values of your community are equally tangible and you have to change those if you want things to be different and that does start with us here in the city.”
To gun-control advocates it’s also an improvement on his predecessor Bill Foster’s administration.
“Mayor Foster had not signed this statement of principles. It was something that he and I differed on. I felt it was important as the mayor of the city to be the one to set the tone and the culture going forward.”
Kriseman was joined by representatives from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, CASA and the Council of Neighborhood Associations. Lisa-Wheeler-Brown is the president of CONA. Her son, Cabretti Wheeler, was shot and killed five years ago when he got caught in the midst of a robbery.
“So, having the mayor sign this is a big step for me. It won’t be tolerated in our city anymore and hopefully I’m looking to preventing more gun violence and helping stop the norm as people seem to think it is to lose children before they even get to 21 to gun violence.”
Wheeler-Brown hopes that parents will also get involved in the fight to limit illegal guns by teaching their kids that it’s not cool to have a gun – it’s dangerous. She acknowledges that many children don’t have parents in the home advocating smart choices, but hopes community programs for youths can help change the gun mentality among young people.