On anniversary of Sandy Hook tragedy, local lawmakers in Tampa decry lack of new gun regulations

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A year after the tragic massacre in Newtown, Connecticut that saw 26 people - including 20 school children - shot to death, the sentiment amongst gun control advocates today was one of frustration, but also hope.

In East Tampa early Saturday morning, a small group of people gathered outside the Grant Park Community Center to hear speeches made by local lawmakers. They asked the crowd to remember the victims, and to keep up the the fight for gun regulations in the wake of the epidemic of mass shootings that continue to take place every year (including one in Colorado on Friday).

"Very little has changed since Newtown, " said Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, who derided the "makeup" of elected officials who he said find it difficult to withstand the pressure of the NRA and other Second Amendment lobbying groups.

Miler takes the issue personally. His son was shot while attending Florida A&M in 1997, an incident that the former state lawmaker and now Hillsborough County Commissioner often invokes when discussing the dangers of gun violence. He's not optimistic that state or federal lawmakers will become courageous anytime soon when it comes to voting for new regulations regarding handguns or assault rifles.

"I don’t think there’s going to be an effort of any kind by elected officials unless the public decides its time to do something, and right now the majority of the public believes any legislation is going to curtail their right to bear arms," he says.

Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick agreed, saying "We have congressional leaders and state leaders who are in a position to make a change in the gun laws, to put stricter restrictions in there to try to curb some of the violence that we’re having, and it’s not being done, and it’s a shame."

Even though a state law prohibits local legislators like himself from crafting gun regulations, Miller pushed to ask the county's attorney earlier this year if the BOCC could create a county ban on assault rifles and large-capacity magazines. He could not, he was informed.

Though Miller says that Congress will only act when pushed by the public, in fact Americans said they were strongly in favor of universal background checks earlier this year when Capitol Hill took up the debate. And a bill sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Pat Toomay (R-Pennsylvania) that called for universal background checks for commercial sales, gun shows and all Internet sales actually did get a majority of vote in the Senate (56), but did not not capture the requisite 60 needed for passage.

Margaret Jabour with Moms Demand Action admitted to feeling frustrated that a year after Newton, no gun control laws has passed either in Congress or in Florida. She says that most Republicans in Tallahassee have no appetite for such legislation, and since they control both chambers in the Legislature, nothing is probably going to happen on the state law regarding guns for quite sometime.

Nevertheless, she refuses to back down.

"We are not stopping, and we will continue working and fighting for years to come if we need to to make change in this state, because we’re optimistic that we need to change the consciousness of the citizens in this state and the country as well. It’s a matter of changing every individual and their perspective on gun reform," Jabour says.

Second Amendment supporters say that even if a federal universal background check was in place a year ago, it would have done nothing to stop Adam Lanza from killing 26 people, because his guns were legally purchased by his mother and then stolen by Lanza.

Jabour acknowledges that, but says a limit on the size of gun magazines could have prevented Lanza
from doing as much damage as he did last year. "I guarantee you that if he had a magazine that had less than 10 rounds, like we’re trying to pass, there would be some of those kids living today."

Although such legislation failed in Congress, several states did adopt such restrictions.

But again, not in Florida. And hopes for curbing some of the excesses of the state's Stand Your Ground law (which remains extremely popular in the Sunshine State), also appear to be going nowhere in 2014. In fact, Fort Walton Beach Representative Matt Gaetz, who chaired a hearing on SYG earlier this year, made his feelings known about that possibility this summer by saying he wouldn't change "one damn comma" of the controversial state law.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller said such an attitude disgusts him. Gaetz has already announced he's running for the state Senate seat currently held by his father Don in 2016. Miller contends that Gaetz's tough position on SYG is based on politics.

"How can you campaign or put politics in front of the lives of people?" Miller asked on Saturday. "It never ceases to amaze me. I’m an elected official. But I never thought of utilizing someone’s welfare or someone’s life for my own political gain, but that’s what happens, and unfortunately the Legislature is not going to do anything about (SYG) it this session."

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