The Safe Cities Initiative

City Government


The day after local resident Eddie Sotomayor and 48 others lost their lives in the Orlando tragedy, the City Commission and I attended a very moving vigil in honor of the mass shooting victims.

The gathering at Selby Five Points Park in Downtown Sarasota was one of the most moving events I have ever attended. Still numb over his loss, Eddie's father was in attendance.    

The vigil was attended by over 1,500. No political speeches were allowed. Standing on the porch of the Selby Library, overlooking a sea of sparkling candles at dusk, the pain and sadness over the loss of so many kind, innocent and young people was palpable.  

In a sign of the times, I scanned the crowd for assault weapons. I wished my mind did not have to work that way.   

The LGBT-friendly crowd was fearless in their resolve to respect and celebrate the lives of the lost while expressing the hope that those lives would not be lost in vain.  

As leaders of our community, charged with passing and enforcing laws and policies to keep the peace in a diverse, robust civic environment, it was a natural and appropriate thought for elected and appointed city officials to wonder what could be done to prevent more Orlandos.    

Exactly one week to the hour of the vigil, I was extremely proud of our City Commission and community for having the guts, courage and fortitude to participate in what is becoming a grassroots-driven, national dialogue on how to prevent more Orlandos.

I would also like to note and thank the citizens who attended the Commission meeting to discuss the Safe Cities Resolution. The public comment from all sides, albeit lengthy, was helpful, insightful, at times entertaining and sincerely appreciated.

Too often, regular citizens and those on the front lines of keeping the peace are overlooked or remiss in providing input and insight into what must become a much tighter local, state and national partnership to keep our cities safe.

The narrowly framed advisory resolution had no legal authority to impact local, state or federal gun laws but was a simple plea for help from those in power who can help.

The resolution asked for State and Federal officials to consider restoring the High Capacity Assault Rifle Regulation that was in place until 2004. The rules limiting these high-powered weapons to the military and bona fide police departments were originally advanced by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. Today, polls indicate a growing majority of American citizens support restoring reasonable high-caliber assault weapons restrictions.

The sense at the vigil was that something has to be done. The sense at the City Commission table last Monday night was that something can be done when the good citizens of America begin to engage in thoughtful conversation, listen to each other and begin to search for common ground and compromise.  

In case you didn't hear, unfortunately the Safe Cities Resolution and possible amendments to it were not able to be forwarded to Congress for fear of threatened litigation by gun advocates and NRA affiliates under interpretations of state law prohibiting local input on firearms regulations. That is another, and perhaps even bigger story, for another day.   

Although this issue seems to be one of the most difficult and charged issues in America, all who participated in the Sarasota debate clearly had one thing in common: we all want to live, work and play in safe communities. We all want our policemen, firemen, our children, friends, loved ones and ourselves to come home every day as we cherish the gift of life, each other and our time here in peaceful communities. Perhaps if the debate focuses more on that, we may find common ground. And the sooner the better!

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s column.

Tom Barwin is Sarasota City Manager.

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