St Pete Gun Safety Rally 2/17/18

Photos by Hillsborough League photographer John Sokolinski:

Clip of Rene Flowers and Charlie Crist:

Clip of Dr. Julie Kessel (2nd speaker on clip): .

Comments of Julie Kessel, MD President LWVSPA

Here we are again.  Another avoidable American tragedy played out in Florida.

On February 14th, Parkland joined that horrible list of America’s most deadly shootings: Aurora, Colo., Newtown, Conn., San Bernardino, Calif., Sutherland Springs, Texas, Orlando, FL and Las Vegas, Nev., amongst others. These tragedies share more than blood, death and horror.  They were all committed using military style assault weapons. These guns are weapons of mass destruction intended for no other purpose than to kill, and they are easier to get than a handgun.

On that day Parkland became the 7th mass shooting in America in February alone and those children became just 17 of the average of 96 Americans killed with guns each day. Americans are 128 times more likely to be killed by a gun than to be killed in an act of terrorism. The most vulnerable amongst us are killed by guns every day by fellow American citizens.

The Center for Disease Control has identified gun violence as an epidemic.  We know it is true.  There is a raging deadly gun disease in our country.  Big gun money mosquitos, like the NRA, infect our politicians with the gun disease. It causes them to become angry, weak and afraid.  They lose their reason, hearing and sight.  They do not hear the voices of their constituents; the screams of dyeing children; they do not see the tears of our families; they do not feel the trauma and sadness of our communities.

They react with indifferent empty condolence, paranoid racist rants about scary immigrants, terrorism and young black men wearing sweatshirts; they project blame from themselves and on to those with major mental illness, and make plans for big expensive walls and more big guns to protect us.

What did our legislators do in the wake of Parkland.  The President and Governor Scott expressed indifferent empty condolescences, Paul Ryan advised no rash conclusions or quick actions, Senator Rubio wondered how the shooter got an AR15, Senator Nelson suggested this may be a turning point, and 24 hours after the massacre, FL legislators , Senators Steube and Baxley, agenda-ed a bill that would allow guns to be carried in schools by volunteers.

Our federal and state legislators have failed to protect us from senseless gun violence and they have tied the hands of our local electeds to help enact common sense gun legislation by making their actions illegal through the power of preemption.

Year after year in Florida, legislators file bills to expand gun rights ― campus and open carry, airport carry, house of worship carry, carry without a background check, all ways to promote firearm sales and places to carry. They actually filed a bill this year that would have allowed open carry during activities such as bird watching, dog walking, bicycling, sledding and mountaineering. And year after year we fight to defeat them.

The antidote to this deadly disease now rests in the hands of the people.  We know that common sense gun legislation makes sense and people want it, all over the country, and especially here in Florida.

Here is what you can do.

There are two bills that require immediate action.  SB 1048, AKA church carry, and HB 533 which allows concealed weapons permits to be issued in the absence of a completed background check.  Please call your legislators and oppose these bills.  We also need your help to get SB196 and HB 219, our assault weapons ban bills, scheduled to be heard.  Senate President Negron and House Leader Corcoran for the second year in a row, will not even place these Assault weapon ban bills on the schedule to be heard. Please call your legislators and tell them to #hearthebills.  You can get more specific information at our League of Women Voters table today at the rally or at our website at

As citizens and as VOTERs, you have the power to make change happen through the power of your VOICE and your VOTE.  These legislators work for YOU. Tell them what you want them to DO.   Do NOT let the cries of our community fall on infected deaf ears and disease scarred hardened hearts.  Make your voice heard, and for the sake of our community and the lives of those we love, make sure you VOTE for legislators who reflect your priorities and values.

Everyone knows someone who is not registered to vote.  Make it your personal mission to get them to register and to take them to the polls with you.  Our democracy is most immune and resilient, beautiful and healthy when everyone participates.

I find heart and inspiration from the young survivors of Parkland who, in the wake of this tragedy, have the strength, clarity and courage to take our legislators to the mat and tell them to make our community safe from guns and ban assault weapons now, or they will suffer at the polls.

Let’s all follow their lead!          Thank you.

Julie B. Kessel, MD

President, League of Women Voters of the St Pete Area

Board Member, Florida League of Women Voters

Advisory Board Member, Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence