Pinellas County Commission urges state and federal officials to act on gun violence

Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard adds her voice to the discussion Aug. 6 urging state and federal officials to do something about the gun violence.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners are upset about the latest bout of mass shootings. During the Aug. 6 meeting, many voiced their displeasure with the lack of action by state and federal elected officials to address the issues. Commission Chair Karen Seel volunteered to draft a letter to communicate the commission’s concerns.

Commissioner Janet Long started the discussion during the portion of the meeting usually reserved for reports on different boards and committees on which the commissioners serve.

“I just feel so strongly as an elected official representing our citizens that we have an obligation and a duty to speak to some of these horrible tragedies that are going on in our country,” Long said. “And we can’t be so naïve to think that this could not happen here.”

Long was reacting to the shootings that occurred in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend, Aug. 3 and Aug. 4, in which 31 people were killed.

“I’m hopeful that as a board we can offer some suggestion or some communication to our state and federal leaders to please take action on this, especially the horrible shootings that are going on,” she said.

As of Aug. 5, 255 mass shootings have occurred in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The group defines a mass shooting as an incident in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter.

Long said the problem seemed to be unique to the United States.

“There are many other countries in the world that have mental health issues and people who watch video games, they don’t have the mass shootings that we are having,” she said.

Some have placed the blame for the gun violence on lack of adequate mental health services. Others say it is due to violence portrayed in video games, on TV and in movies. The debate about gun control rages on regardless.

Long believes commissioners have an “obligation to speak out.” She thinks something should be done to let elected officials know at different levels of government that “this is not acceptable.”

Commissioner Dave Eggers agrees something needs to be done. But, he doesn’t believe any one thing is to blame for the violence. He says a “multiplicity” of reasons is involved.

“I sure wish that our federal government would decide to work together,” he said, adding that there are “a lot of smart people, a lot of good people — staff, representatives, senators — some work could really be done.”

He sent his sympathies to the families of those killed.

“I am just so tired of the rhetoric. It’s either all about access to guns or it’s all about mental health, and everyone goes to their corners,” he said. “I think it’s a really complicated issue we need to address together.”

Eggers believes, as a people, “we can do better.”

He sent a challenge to officials in Washington to “think of the country first.”

“It’s not about politics. It’s about taking care of our children and our communities,” said Commission Vice-chair Pat Gerard.

She said if elected officials at the county and municipal level didn’t have the ability to do anything, then it was important to send people to Tallahassee and Washington that will do something.

“You know, you can talk about mental health services all day long, but if you’re not willing to fund it, if you’re not willing do something, you might as well throw some more thoughts and prayers out there because they mean nothing.

“It’s not enough to fly flags at half-staff and to talk about it’s a mental health issue or we need to harden the schools or whatever else you want to say about it. If you’re not willing to act, then just shut up. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Then Gerard added one more thing – “I will reiterate that we need to send people that are willing to act on our behalf that represent our wishes, because the majority of people in this county want some reasonable gun controls. So let’s act on our wishes.”

Seel agreed that something needed to be done to address the problem on a state and national basis.

“This is simply unacceptable,” she said. “I’m willing to draft some kind of letter on behalf of the commission to whomever we think it would be wise to send it to.”

Commissioner Charlie Justice didn’t speak on the issue when it was his turn to give his reports, but he thanked Seel for her offer.

“We’ve talked a lot about the preemption, and how Tallahassee has taken the ability away from us,” Justice said.

Florida law prohibits local governments from regulating firearms with the exception of enacting zoning laws about where gun sellers can locate their businesses.

“Really in the broad sense I actually agree with that,” Justice said. “I think there should be some state rules – not have 67 different rules on these big issues. But I think sometimes when they preempt us, they forget that not only do they get the power to make the decisions, but they now own the responsibility of enacting policy that reacts to that issue.

“So I think something to communicate that reminder to them would not be a bad thing.”

“If they don’t want us to have the responsibility, then they have to take it,” Long said.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters did not comment and Commissioner Ken Welch was absent due to injuries from a bicycling accident.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.