Gillum: ‘This Is Our Moment’ to Create Change
By JOHN GREGG, Correspondent, Tampa Bay Reporter
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was one of four Democrats running for governor who pledged Thursday to change laws to help reduce gun violence in Florida. The four spoke at a Road to Change rally and voter registration event in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park.
ST. PETERSBURG – Four of the Democrats running for governor agree on at least one item: Laws in Florida need to change to reduce gun violence.
The four pledged Thursday (July 12) that, if they were elected, they would fight the National Rifle Association to pass “common sense” gun control legislation.
The four – Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine – made their pledges during a Road to Change rally in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park. The rally was one stop in the Road to Change tour sponsored by the March for Our Lives movement created by students who survived the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The tour is designed motivate, educate and register the youth of America to become involved with the political process, to register to vote and to vote.
The tour’s next Tampa Bay stop will be a 6 p.m. town hall Saturday (July 14) in University of South Florida’s Marshall Student Center, 4103 Cedar Circle in Tampa.
“We like to make progress here and we would be making more progress if we had different people leading our state and federal government,” he said. “We would ban weapons of war. We would ban high-capacity magazine clips. We would get the wrong guns out of the wrong hands. Fortunately, there is a way to put different people in charge. That’s what today is all about.”
After Kriseman’s opening remarks, current and past students from Stoneman Douglas stood in the 90-degree heat to eulogize their 14 classmates who were killed in the Parkland school shooting and the victims of gun violence at places like the Pulse night club in Orlando and in urban communities throughout the country.
They rebuked state and national leaders for putting profits over the lives of children and asked voters to help elect leaders who will work towards solutions to end gun violence.
“As you make your way to the polls this November and in the next Presidential election, with every step, think of the thousands of innocent Americans who are killed on our streets every day whose faces never make it the news,” said Parkland survivor and March for Our Lives activist Lauren Hogg.
The first Florida gubernatorial hopeful to step to the podium was Orlando native King who described the enormous impact that the Pulse nightclub shooting has had on his community. He praised the courage of Parkland student leaders and said that he and his fellow candidates are “standing on your shoulders.”
“Whenever my courage wanes a little bit, I think about the students of Parkland and I think about your voice and your ability to make a change. This is a year, this is an election, this is a movement that can do something to change it. We’re relying on you. We believe you. We want to encourage you and we hope in November we will honor you,” King said.
Graham, a former U.S. representative, followed King and, after joking that she was not going to put on her jacket “for obvious reasons,” described how as a mother, not as a candidate for governor, she is “sickened by the gun violence in the state of Florida.”
After recounting her frustration as a former legislator at the lack of motivation by her fellow Congressmen to pass gun reform initiatives following past mass shootings, she detailed the influence of the NRA at all levels of government and vowed to fight them if elected.
“The NRA controls our state government. The NRA controls Washington, D.C. I know that Chris and Andrew and myself, any one of us that gets elected, we are going to fight the NRA every single day. They are no longer going to have control. They are no longer going to cause senseless deaths in the state of Florida.”
Tallahassee Mayor Gillum was next to the podium and he, too, talked of NRA influence in the state. Gillum recounted how his city had twice beaten lawsuits brought on by the NRA over the refusal to repeal a city ordinance banning the use of firearms in city parks. He vowed that, “together through our collective voice, we are going to beat them again”.
Gillum complimented the March for Our Lives movement for not only speaking up against mass shootings but talking about gun violence in urban and under-privleged communities. He revved up the crowd with an impassioned closing statement:
“I believe that this is our moment. This is our time that we get to answer and be accountable, to be the loudest and the strongest and the most powerful voices in this moment. Your ability to have a gun does not trump my ability to live. It does not trump my kid’s ability to go to school and return home alive. It does not trump my kid’s ability to walk down the street and be confident that they can return home and not in a body bag.
“What makes this moment so important. What makes what these young people are doing so important is that they actually believe that they have the ability to create change. And you wanna know something? I believe it, too.”
Florida House Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, and state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, both detailed their voting records on gun control. Then, former Miami Beach Mayor Levine, who is also running for governor, spoke
Levine encouraged voters to follow the leadership of the youth in the March for Our Lives movement. Florida, he said, could lead the way for the nation in passing gun reform legislation.
“This is it for all of us,” Levine said. “We gotta make it happen. If it happens in Florida, it’ll happen nationwide. So this is the opportunity we have for all of us to get it done.”
Among the crowd was a contingent from the Utah Gun Exchange, an online gun marketplace, whose members have been traversing the country in recent weeks and attending March for Our Lives rallies. The group, which identifies itself as pro-Second Amendment, has received national attention as much for their views as for the military-style armored vehicle they drive. Co-owner Bryan Melchior calls the vehicle “the Mercedes-Benz of armored personnel carriers and a fantastic free-speech tool.”
Melchior and other members of Utah Gun Exchange met with Parkland students participating in the Road to Change bus tour on Wednesday (July 11) in Kissimmee. Melchior said that, despite media reports to the contrary, he and his group have been mostly welcomed by leadership in the March for Our Lives movement. He also broke the news that the two groups have had preliminary discussions about holding a two-sided town hall on a national stage.
“We’re bridging the gap. People around the country are complaining about how there’s no gray area in the middle. It’s either one way or another way. No one can unite and no one can talk anymore,” Melchior said. “What we did yesterday is we bridged that gap and we brought people on both sides of the issue together in the same room to talk. To anyone that says we’re too loud or that our truck is offensive, you can criticize our techniques, but they have resulted in a coming together. The children at these events are shaking our hands. That’s what’s happening on the ground.”
Photos by John Gregg, TB Reporter Correspondent.
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