Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners take a brief stand against assault-weapons ban

To confront gun violence, Miami-Dade commissioners on Wednesday promised to attack the problem from all angles, be it increasing the county’s anti-gang squads, closing streets to foil drive-by shootings or revive horseback patrols of neighborhoods where police need a friendlier image. But they voted to take one option off the table: urging Congress to ban assault weapons.

In a 6-5 vote, the commission rejected a resolution by commissioners Sally Heyman and Barbara Jordan to recommend Congress reinstate the national ban on semi-automatic weapons. Enacted in 1994, Congress allowed the law to expire 10 years later and gun-rights groups have successfully fought back efforts to revive it in the wake of mass shootings.

Miami-Dade’s lack of support may be short-lived. Heyman missed Wednesday’s meeting, and Jordan won a last-minute decision by commissioners to undo the earlier vote and let her bring the motion back another day.

Symbolism is the only thing at stake, since the resolution would have urged Congress, as well as the Florida Legislature, to take action on gun control. Its language invoked a mix of national and local shooting sprees, including the 20 school children who died in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, and the two people killed outside a Miami apartment complex last summer when a shooter opened fire into a crowd.

Voting against the motion: Bruno Barreiro, Vice-Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Rebeca Sosa, Javier Souto and Juan C. Zapata. Voting for: Jordan, Daniella Levine Cava, Dennis Moss, Chairman Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez, according to the clerk’s tally. The later vote to let Jordan bring back the resolution passed unanimously. Heyman and Audrey Edmonson were absent from the meeting.

The decision on the assault-weapons issue arrived hours after an extensive discussion on how to address the unending string of deadly shootings in Miami and its suburbs.

“We need a comprehensive and robust plan to stop the senseless bloodshed in our community,” Monestime said, announcing a new task force to address gun violence shortly after taking the gavel for the first meeting in his two-year term as the commission’s new chairman. “These senseless murders are destroying families.”

To head the task force, Monestime tapped Edmonson, the commissioner representing Overtown and Liberty City. Those parts of Miami are most closely associated with the gun violence that in recent weeks included a fatal shooting on Christmas Day, the death of a 14-year-old boy in a drive-by shooting, and the shooting of a driver while a baby was in the car.

Monestime said local governments should consider changes in traffic patterns, such as closed streets, to make it harder for drive-by shooters to escape. Souto, one of the longest-serving commissioners, urged more community policing, and said officers on horseback would be a natural way to win hearts and minds.

“They create the friendship we’re looking for,” he said.

The focus on gun fatalities comes after a bruising commission battle over the 2015 county police budget, which initially had significant cuts proposed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez. His administration used one-time revenue sources to close some of the funding holes, and ultimately presented a budget with virtually no police jobs eliminated. But with the police union still at odds with Gimenez on a new three-year contract, the 2016 budget process could be contentious, too.

Several commissioners broached the issue of police funds Wednesday. Budget documents show 4,012 positions planned for the police department this year, down about 9 percent from the year before Gimenez took office in 2011. “There were a number of things we used to do that we no longer do, because of funding sources,” Jordan said.

Alfredo Ramirez, assistant police director, said the gang task force and other squads targeting street violence have been slimmed down or streamlined, but that the department has launched a group with other agencies that meets weekly to exchange intelligence on gangs and other crime.

“Are we tighter than before? Yes,” Ramirez said. “We still have a gang unit. It still exists.”

Edmonson was traveling during the meeting. In an interview, she said she only learned about Monestime’s plan recently, but that it could dovetail with a group of community leaders she has already formed to tackle the gun problem.

“We’ve already had three meetings, and one community event,” she said. “We’re trying to find the solutions.”