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Gun Violence In Hillsborough County Prompts Meeting Between Leaders

A gun with bullets on the side.
Wikimedia Commons

Local and state officials met Friday to discuss gun violence in Hillsborough County, as well as possible solutions.

Hillsborough County commissioners, city officials, judges, and activists all had thoughts to share at a virtual retreat on gun violence.

Friday’s event was hosted by Hillsborough County Commissioner Gwen Myers as a part of the Community Law Enforcement Workshops and Services (CLEWS) program.

In Hillsborough County, not including Tampa, non-fatal shootings are on pace to meet or exceed the 72 reported by the Sheriff's Office last year. That’s compared to 44 such shootings reported in 2019.

There has also been about two dozen gun-related homicides in Tampa so far this year, including the August death of four-year-old Sunni Bell.

Tampa Bay Technical High School students presented a video that answered questions about the root of gun violence. It prompted commentary from public officials that filled the remainder of the meeting.

“I'm hoping in the future that we have this again to where I hear from the students who are really out there involved in some of these activities,” said Tampa City Council Member Orlando Gudes. “That's where you're going to get the true story of what's going on.”

Community engagement was a recurring topic.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said he was inspired by some of the comments that he heard, but was also “extremely frustrated.”

“I'm the one who has to make the phone call to tell the mother that the young man who killed her son is going free because we couldn't get witnesses to cooperate,” said Warren. “And I'm the one who has to call the grieving parents to tell them we can't charge anyone with a crime because we don't have witnesses to give us evidence to overcome ‘(the) Stand Your Ground (law).’”

“And I'm the one who has to tell the mom that no one's going to be held responsible when some kid got access to a gun and accidentally shot her son, because there's no law that prohibits any of that conduct in the state.”

State Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, said there is an effort in the state legislature to expand gun control legislation, but it’s difficult considering the political makeup of the House.

“As you all know, we're 47 (Democrats) to 73 (Republicans). It's a hard job, but we're up to the task,” said Hart.

That lack of meaningful state-level gun legislation, a scarcity of meaningful job opportunities, and the culture surrounding gun ownership were brought up as factors influencing the growing gun violence in the Tampa Bay region.

Johnny Johnson is the co-founder of Rise Up For Peace, an organization of parents who have lost their children to gun violence. He says people need more than just words.

“We are here. I live this everyday, whether this retreat goes on or not,” said Johnson. “I walk the streets of East Tampa everyday and I hear stories and I see things. We need power. We need support from the elected officials to stand with us.”

Jorgelina Manna-Rea is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second straight semester with WUSF.
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