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Gun vote again ends in a draw

Largo commissioners deadlock for a second time on a proposal to sell police officers handguns. The issue is expected to return.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


Largo commissioners deadlock for a second time on a proposal to sell police officers handguns. The issue is expected to return.

LARGO -- In a virtual replay of last month's 3-3 vote to allow police officers to buy the weapons they use on duty, city commissioners on Tuesday night again deadlocked on the issue.

The first time the matter came before commissioners two weeks ago, Commissioner Mary Laurance was at a Florida League of Cities function in Tallahassee and unable to break the tie.

On Tuesday night, Laurance was on the commission dais, ready to support the proposal. But this time, Commissioner Pat Burke was missing.

Burke, who is on vacation, supported the proposal at last month's meeting.

Despite Burke's absence, city officials pressed on, hoping to find a resolution.

"Here we go again," said Largo police Chief Lester Aradi as he sat before commissioners to pitch the idea to commissioners.

"And we have six again," replied Mayor Bob Jackson.

Police Department officials came up with the idea about two years ago when they wanted to replace the 9mm handguns currently used by Largo officers with the more powerful .40-caliber semiautomatics. The department thought it could defray some of the cost of the new weapons by selling the 9mm guns to the officers for $150 apiece. Police supervisors believe about 50 officers would be interested in purchasing their old weapons.

The other option was to destroy the 9mm weapons.

Commissioners last month approved paying $83,992.50 for the new weapons, but at that meeting split on allowing officers to buy the 9mm guns. Some commissioners are worried about the guns getting into the wrong hands,

"I know the officers know how to use them, and they're proficient with them, but there are family members and children who may not be," Commissioner Pat Gerard said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

Seeking to allay such concerns, Aradi told commissioners he would prohibit his officers from selling or transferring ownership of the weapons. Aradi would also demand that the officers buy a gun lock, requiring the officer to show him proof they purchased such a device.

Laurance had faith that the officers could be trusted with the weapons.

"I'm a firm believer that if you have the paperwork, you should be able to bear arms," she said shortly before the meeting.

"You are talking about highly skilled, trained professionals," Laurance added, referring to Largo police officers.

The mayor asked for a vote.

Commissioners Laurance, Jean Halvorsen and Harriet Crozier voted in favor of the proposal. Jackson, Gerard and Commissioner Marty Shelby voted against the idea.

"I'll see you again in two weeks," said Aradi.

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