Pinellas County Commissioners have added a discussion of gun background checks to their legislative agenda.
Commissioner Janet Long said as elected officials, it is their responsibility to look at gun violence and gun policies in the interest of public safety. She said there are many holes in the existing background check system, including lags in time between when a person is officially listed as a felon and not.
“Are you comfortable knowing the background check is not really a background check in terms of identifying people who are potential problems?” Long asked the commission Tuesday. “Are you aware that this is a real glitch in our state law and are your comfortable with it?”
She said a person can be arrested for a violent crime on Monday, be bonded out on Tuesday and buy a gun the day of his or her release because they are not officially a convicted felon yet.
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Domestic abuse issues and mental illness, Long said, are also not addressed in background checks.
“Can we strengthen and clarify what we mean with background checks?” she said.
While Long stressed this was just for discussion purposes, commissioner Susan Latvala cautioned against coming too close to trying to make policy about guns because of new state laws that make it illegal for the county to do so.
“Does that fall under the prohibition that the legislature put on us about controlling guns?” Latvala said.
The county’s legal team said as long as no gun policy is officially proposed, there would be no legal threat to having a discussion with its legislative delegation about gun background checks.
“It’s the political ping pongs like this” that are making Washington and Tallahassee stagnant and that frustrate the public, Commissioner Norm Roche said. “Let’s be realistic about what our expectations and results are."
The gun control discussion was added to the Feb. 26 meeting.
Earlier this week in St. Petersburg Republican Congressman C.W. Bill Young was the target of a rally advocating for stricter gun background check policies.
Residetns, community leaders and city council members asked Young to support President Barack Obama's gun policies.
"We know common sense tells us we need to make it more difficult for criminals to buy guns," said St. Pete council chair Karl Nurse said. "More difficult for the mentally ill to buy a gun. We do not need semi-automatic riffles to go hunting. The only purpose of those is mass murder.
"It’s time for Congressman Young to step up," Nurse said. "He knows the right thing to do is to support common sense measure that (will) protect the law abiding citizens from the criminals."
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