Hillsborough shoots down gun buybacks

Commissioners voted for a taskforce instead

TAMPA - The concept of an annual gun buyback program for Hillsborough County got an icy reception from county commissioners, several of whom questioned whether such a plan would make a difference in gun violence.

Commissioner Lesley Miller, whose son was a shooting victim, said he doubts whether anyone with criminal intent would ever show up at a gun buyback.

"The people that want to have the handguns and do the violent crimes in Hillsborough County and across this country are not going to turn them in," Miller said.

The idea came from Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who agreed that a buyback program won't prevent another massacre or end gun violence altogether.  But he argued that they make a difference.

"The premise is so simple.  One less gun on the street or in the house is one less opportunity that that firearm is going to be involved in an incident of gun violence," Beckner said.

Beckner explained that removing a gun from a home with a small child effectively ends any chance that child will accidentally shoot himself.  It would also end the chance that a domestic dispute results in a shooting, Beckner said.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe was in favor of the buyback plan, but noted that support for the proposal would not go unnoticed by the National Rifle Association.  The NRA doesn't endorse buyback programs.

Sharpe said he remembered opposing the sale of armor-piercing bullets, and received calls from the organization's top lobbyist in his subsequent political campaigns.

"They never forgot.  In fact, even in my 2010 primary county commission race I heard from Marion Hammer and the NRA," Sharpe said.

The gun buyback proposal drew sharp contrasts from Tampa residents who attended the County Commission meeting downtown.    

"Guns don't kill people.  Stupid people with guns kill people," said Michelle Williams, citing a familiar cliche.  "I'm sad to say that the people in the target audience that you may want to get to come and sell these guns are not the thugs off the streets," Williams said.

Gerald White told commissioners that having fewer guns might save the county money in the long run.

"We've got to spend all this money putting law enforcement in all of our schools just to protect them," White said.  "Solve the problem in the community first.

Other than commissioners Beckner and Sharpe, the board members said they would vote against the proposal.  In response, Beckner withdrew his buyback plan and instead proposed a gun violence task force.

That measure was approved.  It includes looking into mental health issues related to the violence problem.

Beckner said he wasn't disappointed with the decision, but was encouraged that some action was taken to deal with gun violence.  Still, he would rather have established gun buy backs on an annual basis, and at the same time, offer a memorial to those killed by guns.

"Gun buy backs are not the silver bullet solution to preventing gun violence," Beckner said.  "It is a mere tool to reduce gun violence."

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