St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman met with a group of local lawmakers and community activists Wednesday to announce the launch of a grassroots community campaign focusing on the problem of gun violence.
Everytown for Gun Safety is a new organization from gun-control advocate groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense as the latest attempt to emphasize the need for “common sense gun laws” on state, local and federal levels.
One of the stated goals of the Everytown is to become a “counterweight” to the powerful gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association, in both Washington D.C. and Tallahassee.
Joining Kriseman on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall was Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson, Interim Chief of Police David DeKay, Moms Demand Action Florida Chapter Leader Chryl Anderson, gun violence survivors; faith leaders; law enforcement and responsible gun owners.
“Gun violence is not an isolated problem, but an American problem,” Kriseman said, telling the crowd of about 45 people that one of his first acts as mayor was to sign the Mayors Against Illegal Guns proclamation.
“If you illegally possess a gun, you are not welcome in St. Petersburg,” he added.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a bipartisan coalition of over 1,000 mayors and 1.5 million active supporters started in 2006 by outspoken gun-control advocates Michael Bloomberg, who was at the time Mayor of New York City, and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America started the day after December 14, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and fatally shot 20 children and 6 adults. Demand now has chapters in all 50 states. A few months ago the two organizations joined forces to produce Everytown for Gun Safety.
Henderson, a father and longtime responsible gun owner, said that he based his support for the Everytown initiative on the fact “we are all neighbors.”
“Our police forces, St. Petersburg and Gulfport, work hand in hand,” Henderson said. “And those guys go out in some difficult situations.”
“Anything we can do to make their jobs safer,” he added, “I think is an obligation.”
Henderson also called for Tallahassee to give Florida cities back the power, as local governments, to make ordinances as to what can be done with firearms.
C.L. Townshend is an NRA member and self-described six-generation “Florida Cracker.” As a devout hunter, he told the audience that he knows the difference between the “hunting and the hunted.”
Townsend spoke of the “mindset of the hunted” who fall prey to “fear mongering by the NRA,” which has become an obstacle to a responsible conversation about gun safety in the United States.
A gun owner for over 60 years, Townshend said the turning point for him was Sandy Hook.
“Newtown broke my wife’s and my heart,” he said. “And I joined the NRA to learn about their positions, some of them are reasonable.”
“However, their use of fear versus facts is the destabilizing force in public discussion about gun violence prevention,” he said, adding the attacks on comprehensive background checks is one of the ways the NRA uses fear just to sell guns.
After his speech, Kriseman, a former state Representative, echoed concerns about the power of the NRA lobby on the Florida Legislature, which is currently considering decriminalizing “warning shots” in the state’s Stand Your Ground self-defense laws.
Recounting his time in the House, Kriseman said that whenever there was a weapons bill in Tallahassee, “there is (NRA Florida lobbyist) Marion Hammer sitting in the front row, right where everyone can see her, no matter where they are in the chamber, just staring down at you.”
“If she thinks you are going the wrong way,” he said, “she will pick up the phone right there on the floor.”