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Florida Keys News
Friday, January 18, 2013
City's message to Congress: Ban assault-style weapons

The City Commission appears ready to unanimously approve a resolution Wednesday urging Congress to ban "assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines," and require mandatory background checks and training with every firearm purchase.

Key West is weighing in on the turbulent national debate over curbing gun violence just days after President Barack Obama announced a sweeping proposal for new controls.

In addition to the shock of the Newtown, Conn., schoolhouse massacre of first-graders on Dec. 14, on top of the July 20 Colorado cinema rampage in which 12 people were killed and dozens injured, Obama's hometown of Chicago clocked more than 500 homicides in 2012.

Sponsored by Commissioners Teri Johnston, Clayton Lopez, Billy Wardlow and Jimmy Weekley, the resolution also has the support of the rest of the panel, interviews on Thursday confirmed.

A 7-0 vote in favor of sending the resolution to the Florida Keys' congressional delegation is expected at the commission's 6 p.m. Wednesday meeting at Old City Hall.

Crafted as a response to the unspeakable violence that tore apart the community of Newtown last month, when a troubled young man executed 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school before shooting himself, the resolution was first proposed by Police Chief Donie Lee days after the massacre.

"When the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was drafted, granting most citizens the right to bear arms, legislators could not anticipate the destructive power of modern assault weapons," the resolution says.

The Newtown massacre "highlights the far-reaching consequences when assault weapons fall into the hands of an individual whose clear intent is not protection or defense, but murder," the statement continues.

In contrast to Lee, who is a hired police chief, the newly elected Monroe County sheriff said Thursday that he wouldn't join the gun control debate.

"Whatever laws come out, we're going to support," said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. "My job is to enforce laws. We're not policymakers. I do believe in an individual's right to own and bear arms, and also reasonable gun regulations."

Although the decision-making on gun control will be made in D.C., Mayor Craig Cates said he felt compelled to vote in favor of the island's proposed resolution to bar assault weapons.

"I'm going to vote for it, but I want to explain that I don't agree with all of it," Cates said by phone Wednesday from Washington, D.C., where he was attending the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"I'm not going to not vote for it. It's too important an issue. Once it gets to Washington, D.C., a decision has to be made." Commissioners Mark Rossi and Tony Yaniz said Thursday that they, too, would vote in favor of sending lawmakers the message for stepped-up gun regulations.

"Yeah, we've got to pay attention," said Rossi. "This is something that is an everyday, real problem. I don't think we need to have people with M-14s and AK-47s."

Yaniz, who owns a couple of handguns himself, said he doesn't want an assault rifle ban to "whitewash" what he considers the heart of the matter behind Newtown and other violent attacks -- the nation's neglect of mental health care.

"I'm a left-wing liberal and I believe in the Constitution," said Yaniz, who was also in D.C., for a series of meetings with Keys representatives in Congress. "But I agree the intent has been so bastardized right now about assault weapons. But is this going to stop because we ban clips and assault weapons? I don't think so. We need to look at the root cause."

Also on Tuesday's agenda is a related resolution directing City Manager Bob Vitas to work with Monroe County Schools Superintendent Mark Porter and local police agencies "to develop a plan and funding strategies to safeguard the city's schoolchildren."

The School District pays law enforcement agencies to provide security at the public schools. "School resource officers" are assigned to all middle and high schools.

Cates said he supported banning high-capacity magazines that make rapid, lengthy gunfire an easy reality; he also supports "universal background checks."

But he wasn't convinced that banning assault-style weapons from law-abiding citizens who responsibly handle their firearms would prevent another school-shooting massacre of the Newton, Conn., type.

"There are a lot of people who own assault weapons," said Cates, after hearing Vice President Joe Biden deliver a 45-minute speech about increased gun control in the wake of the unspeakable Newtown disaster. "What do they do, throw them away?"

Biden made good points, said Cates, but there remain so many unanswered questions about gun control.

"We're very supportive, but making some guns outlawed that people use for sport and all is maybe more than we should do," Cates said. "We don't have all the details. It's way above our level, the decision. I'm definitely in favor of increasing gun control and background checks."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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