The May 23, 2017 issue of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Tampa Mayor Bob Ruckhorn apologized for a joke about firing .50 caliber blanks at local reporters. He reportedly has told this story several times before. It received applause when told before more than 1,000 attendees at the Special Operations Industry Conference last week. This week it has received widespread condemnation from reporters.
The local reporters who are the punchline for the Mayor’s joke certainly have reason to be upset. The larger community of reporters, whether war correspondents or local feature reporters, are upset at a politician targeting them, literally and figuratively.
I was yelling at Buckhorn by the end of the second paragraph. Not because I am a former reporter and editor (the oldest high school newspaper in Florida). I am upset about the irresponsible behavior the Mayor of Tampa displayed by pointing a gun at fellow Citizens and pulling the trigger.
The fact that the Citizens were reporters does not lessen the affront to basic gun safety. A lot of people would find it fun to fire blanks from a .50 caliber machine gun mounted to the front of a rigid hull inflatable boat during a Special Operations Capabilities Demonstration on the Hillsborough River behind the Tampa Convention Center. Could we buy a ticket for that? No, but the Tampa Mayor gets to have a go of it and immediately displays the behavior that one branch of anti-gun supports warn about. That guns are evil objects and anyone who touches a gun will be overcome with an irrational urge to lash out and shoot people with it. That group has a new poster.
Aside from the fun factor for the Mayor, I can’t imagine what was accomplished by letting a politician on the trigger of a .50 caliber machine gun. If he wants to fire a .50 caliber let him work through Special Forces training like some of the other men or women on the boat. Or let him go to Vegas where he can rent that kind of experience. He would have had one less joke to tell but avoided the backlash.
As a side note, when did it become OK for a politician to take over for a professional when tax payer dollars are being spent? I’m not poo-pooing ceremonial first pitches, but what did the country or NASA gain when Florida Senator Bill Nelson took to space? What special attributes did he bring to the program? Fund raising? Is this pay-for-play when large portion of NASA’s operations are in Florida? That was an expensive photo-op. But I digress.
In this hyper-sensitive society we are living in, the easily offended have more power than a rational person. A comment about killing someone that a rational person understands is an expression of frustration, becomes a reason for termination of employment when a hyper-sensitive person overhears a comment and becomes afraid. Pointing a finger is reason for expulsion if you are a student. But the Mayor gets more latitude. He can point machine guns at Citizens and fire blanks at them.
Allowing that a joke is often a fabrication or an exaggeration, (don’t let the facts interfere with a good story), there is enough evidence that Buckhorn did what he jokes about. The imagery is entertaining to some in a society where politicians and reporters fulfill adversarial roles. Perhaps he was projecting the national vitriol between politicians and reporters whose bias is so easily displayed in their reporting.
But like shouting “FIRE” in a theater, or discussing the yield of bombs in an airport security line, the fact that he pointed a large caliber machine gun at Citizens and pulled the trigger is not a laughing matter. As evidenced in one of the episodes of The Mayor’s Hour, Mayor Buckhorn is not a complete stranger to firearms. He is shown shooting at the Tampa Police Department firearms training facility that he helped cut the ribbon at the opening in March 2016.
His actions on the river and his joke; displays an appalling lack of concern about the discourse in our country around a responsible Citizens right to keep and bear arms and what that responsibility entails. The Mayor displays the kind of immaturity that would get a student kicked out of a Basics Of Pistol Shooting class for pointing an empty gun at another student (well it would in one of my classes).
I have not attended one of the Special Operations Capabilities Demonstration. I am sure they are impressive displays of tactics and equipment including firearms. But witnessing a simulation by professionals is not professional when amateurs are allowed to get involved. Keep the politicians off the trigger until they have gained the Knowledge, Skills and Attitude and maturity to handle a gun safely.