Despite inaction in Congress, Tampa gun control activists not backing down

Friday's rally was organized by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group formed in January that now has over 100 chapters across the county and more than 100,000 supporters. Maggie Larguier is the chapter leader for West and East Central Florida. She says all efforts are now behind a new bill in the House being sponsored by New York Republican Peter King and California Democrat Mike Thompson that is an identical version of the Manchin-Toomey bill that failed in the Senate.

Larguier says she's cautiously optimistic about that bill's chances, but vows that "until the fight is over, we just keep going, and if it doesn’t happen this time around, we’re going to be here for the long haul trying to keep pushing gun reform."

St. Petersburg City Councilman Karl Nurse made the trip up to Tampa to be a part of the rally. He says his city has had a number of shocking murders "and consistently the murderers have illegal guns." Despite the concerns about urban violence that is shared by other members of the City Council, their efforts will never translate into policy changes. That's because the Florida Legislature years ago passed a law banning local governments from enacting any gun control changes, an issue that came to the fore last summer when Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was prevented from banning guns in a protest zone during the Republican National Convention.

"It’s remarkably irresponsible thing for the Legislature to tie our hands," Nurse says. "Our first job as a city is to create a safe environment and they prevent us from doing that."

Plant City resident C.L. Townsend is a member of the National Rifle Association, but he says NRA leaders like Wayne LaPierre don't speak for him.

"Some of the leadership there is pretty crazy," he admits, but says that it's his understanding that are many NRA members who disagree with the fiery rhetoric employed by LaPierre and Jim Porter, the organization's president. "Rights equals responsibility" his sign read.

Lead organizer Maggie Larguier says like Melissa Antal, she had never done public advocacy pre-Newtown. She had worked as a lawyer but then became a stay-at-home mom for the past three years. But the killing of so many children last December at Sandy Hook elementary school shook her fiercely.

"I was so devastated, my heart just sunk. I didn’t not know the laws, and when I found out we allowed military assault weapons to be used by civilians, and high capacity magainzes, capable of firing 154 bullets in less than five minutes, I could not sit back and do nothing. Here I am, I’m learning very quickly. Grass roots work is very hard. I’m doing it, whatever it takes."

The King-Thompson bill has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

  • Gun control activists gathered at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa

In mid-April a bi-partisan amendment sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and Internet sales went down to defeat in the U.S. Senate, coming up six votes short of the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.

The rejection by the Senate was considered a stunning rebuke to gun control activists who had rallied around having Washington come up with some new regulations in the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut last December, where 26 people were gunned down, 20 of them children, in the second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in American history.

But if you thought that would end the movement to craft new regulations on firearms in America, think again, as over 30 people held a rally in Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park late Friday afternoon to continue pushing for what they call straightforward regulations.

"I think we're just getting started," says Melissa Antal, an Orlando based stay-at-home mom who was galvanized into action after the Newtown tragedy.

Antal says she's always been concerned about gun violence going back to Columbine in 1999. But now the mother of two kids, Newtown hit home hard for her, inspiring her to create a Web site designed to inspire others similarly affected to take action regarding gun violence.

"I never imagined doing this, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else," Antal says.

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