Crime & Courts
Tampa protest puts faces on gun control dispute
One by one, the lime-green chairs came out of the back of Pam Eliopulos' silver Lexus RX-350.
There were 20 in all.
“I had to go to three different Target stores to get them,” says Eliopulos, a 56-year-old homemaker from Tampa.
Eliopulos and a half-dozen volunteers set up the chairs in five rows of four on a swath of grass outside Sen. Marco Rubio's office at the campus of the University of South Florida.
There was no indication Rubio was around, but Eliopulos and the others set up the chairs anyway. After the chairs were in place, volunteers taped sheets of paper on the backs of them.
Each one had a photograph of a child killed on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“We have empty chairs because we as a nation are not able to agree on sensible gun laws,” Eliopulos said.
An organizer for Organizing for America, an advocacy group associated with the Democratic National Committee, Eliopulos said the chairs were a protest against Rubio's recent vote on gun control and a recent demonstration by USF students who wore empty holsters to show support for bringing concealed weapons on campus.
“Senator Rubio should be ashamed of the way he voted,” Eliopulo said.
He was among 46 senators who voted against expanding background checks, which required 60 votes for passage. He was also one of 60 senators to vote against banning certain semi-automatic weapons and one of 54 senators voting against limiting magazine capacities to 10 rounds. All three amendments were defeated earlier this week.
Regina Polite, 53, a retired federal worker from Tampa, says she knows firsthand the dangers of gun violence.
“I live in the inner-city of Tampa and we have seen our share,” she says. “My brother, Frederick Polite, was held up at gunpoint.”
Polite said she worries guns bought at shows might end up in hands of those who shouldn't have them. The Senate's vote against expanded background checks for online gun sales and those at gun shows killed what supporters hoped would be an amendment to a broader gun control bill.
“Background checks should have been a big help,” Polite said.
Robert Morris, 75, is a retired police detective from Ridgefield Park, N.J. Holding a big white sign reading “Police For Gun Control Show Courage!” he said, “Rubio doesn't know the first thing about the Second Amendment.”
Armed criminals, he acknowledged, don't get their guns legally. “All the guns they got were stolen or bought off the cuff,” he said.
While he does not think expanding background checks is a panacea, Morris said, “even if the restrictions save one life, it is worth it.”