Pasco County Commissioners canceled the public hearing on whether to close the so-called “gun show loophole,” but they still dedicated most of Tuesday’s meeting to gun issues.
It started in the morning when Commissioner Jack Mariano withdrew a proposed resolution supporting the Second Amendment. Instead, he asked the board to pass a lengthy resolution supporting the entire U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and all amendments – a motion that failed 3-2.
Chairman Ted Schrader called it “grandstanding.” Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said the document was too confusing. And Commissioner Pat Mulieri found it insulting.
“So now the headline is going to read that three county commissioners don’t support the constitution?” she asked. “It’s shameful. I’m 75 years old and I’ve always supported the Constitution. I’ve taken the oath of office five times. This was nothing more than a political ploy.”
Mariano took a beating, too, from dozens of gun control advocates who used the board’s public comment period to scold the commissioners for canceling the public hearing on a proposal to require background checks and waiting periods for private gun sales at public locations.
Commissioners canceled the hearing on the advice of Assistant County Attorney Kristi Sims, who suggested they wait for the outcome of a legal challenge to Pinellas County’s ordinance, which could take a year or longer.
Schrader said the majority of the board was willing to hold a public hearing. “But I think it’s prudent of the board to listen to our county attorney,” he said.
Resident John Ford disagreed. “Closing the gun show loophole is about demonstrating leadership,” he said. “We can not afford to wait that long. We need Pasco County to protect its citizens from people who are not allowed to own guns.”
Democratic Party Chairman Lynn Lindeman cited numerous headlines of recent gun crimes in the region, including the suicide this week of a university student who had a cache of weapons in his dorm room. “This is not something that’s abstract,” he said. “It’s going on all around here.”
Nola Branche said commissioners who voted to cancel the hearing “clearly agree with or are somehow too intimidated by the NRA when they say that background checks are a first step in overturning the Second Amendment.”
And Peno Hardesty, who described herself as a survivor of gun violence, said canceling the public hearing showed a “total disregard to the public who elected you.”
Connecticut native Richard Davis was moved to tears when he discussed the impact of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in January. “That community will be forever changed,” he said.
Michael Solon was the only speaker who opposed any new restrictions on gun sales. “I’m a self-defense expert,” he said. “But I am powerless against a criminal pointing a gun at me.”
In other business, commissioners canceled their planned trip to Tallahassee next week after learning the Florida Legislature would not be in session on March 25 and 26.
Schrader said he was disappointed because it had been many years since the board made the trip. “We could still have gone up there and had dinner with Speaker Weatherford and met with the DOT secretary, but I don’t think we would have been able to accomplish what we wanted,” he said.
Commissioners tentatively rescheduled the trip for April 15 and 16.