Wheeler-Bowman Urges St. Pete Council to Speak Against Gun Violence
Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said a state attorney general’s opinion has freed her and the council to speak against gun violence.
By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter
ST. PETERSBURG – Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said she has earned a small victory in her quest to reduce gun violence in St. Petersburg – the ability to talk about the issue.
Last year, Wheeler-Bowman, who lost a son to gun violence, encouraged her fellow council members to symbolically support the League of Women Voters’ call for a special session on gun violence. Her demand came immediately after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando killed 49 people and wounded 53. Wheeler-Bowman was eager to sign on as a supporter.
“I saw the news coverage of friends and family members who had lost someone. It brought back all those feelings I had when I lost my son,” Wheeler-Bowman said.
She was told by the city attorney that she risked fines, lawsuits, and even removal from office for adding the discussion to the council agenda. At issue was the interpretation of state law that said the Legislature, not local governments, had the power to regulate “firearms, ammunition or components thereof.” The city attorney feared a council resolution could be interpreted as an attempt to usurp the Legislature’s power or otherwise violate the statute.
But a Feb. 6 opinion from the Florida Attorney General’s office has cleared the way for Wheeler-Bowman to speak out and for the St. Petersburg council to pass such a resolution.
“The potential council resolutions … described by ‘simply [expressing] support for, or opposition to, proposed legislation’ would not constitute prohibited regulation of the preempted subject matter,” the opinion reads. “The council’s proposed resolutions expressing its views would not deny, impair, or interfere in any way with the right to bear arms or the Legislature’s regulation of such right. Because the council’s proposed actions would not appear to violate section 790.33, Florida Statutes, or the constitutional right to bear arms, the council would not be subject to penalties.”
Wheeler-Bowman said, “It’s sad that it took a legal opinion from Florida’s Attorney General before I could talk about the murder of my son, Cabretti Wheeler, and how to make sure this doesn’t happen to other families. As a mother, a gun owner, and a representative of my community, I’ll be encouraging my colleagues to discuss this issue openly so we can work to make our streets safer for every family.”
Wheeler-Bowman has long spoken out against gun violence. She campaigned for office on a platform of safer neighborhoods and spoke of the way gun violence had affected her family and her district for during her campaign and for years before that as a community activist.
“After my son was killed, I went door to door in my neighborhood to break the ‘no snitching’ code of silence. At first, nobody would talk about what happened because they were afraid. We eventually caught my son’s killer because people saw this mother out there who wasn’t afraid anymore. I think it showed them that they could take this on, too,” Wheeler-Bowman said. “I’m hoping my colleagues in St. Petersburg and around the state in local government will join me. We don’t have to be afraid anymore. We can speak out and work to make our neighborhoods safer for every family.”
Wheeler-Bowman is not the only local official in Florida to speak out. Last month, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum formed the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a coalition of individuals, organizations, and officials to push back against state preemption of local laws, like gun safety ordinances.
To read the attorney general’s opinion, click here.
For information about Wheeler-Bowman, go to Facebook.com.
Lisa Wheeler-Bowman | St. Petersburg Council | Gun Violence | TB Reporter
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