ST. PETERSBURG – Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman has earned a small victory in her quest to reduce gun violence in St. Petersburg – the ability to talk about the issue. For months, the South St. Petersburg Councilwoman and mother of a son lost to gun violence has been forbidden by law from talking about guns or gun violence in her role on Council.
“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,” Wheeler-Bowman said. “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.”
Last year, Wheeler-Bowman was ready to take on the issue after running on a platform of safer neighborhoods. She talked about how gun violence had affected her family and her district for nearly a year during her campaign and for years prior to that as a community activist.
Her first step: encourage city council to symbolically support the League of Women Voters’ call for a special session on gun violence. The 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 informed by the city attorney that she risked fines, lawsuits, and even removal from office for adding the discussion to the Council Agenda. Tallahassee Republicans with the support of the NRA had pushed the penalties to intimidate local officeholders like Lisa into inaction.
Fortunately, local elected officials are fighting back against these intimidation tactics. Just 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.
“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.
“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.”