Ocala, Florida, is the home of the World Equestrian Center, three olympic speed skaters, and Silver Springs State Park. It was also reported to experience the most gun violence of any U.S. city in 2019.
The violent crime rate in Florida as a whole has experienced a slight increase in recent years. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there has only been a 2.3% increase in violent crime from 2019 to 2020. However, the homicide rate increased by 14.7% over the course of 2020.
Marion County, which contains the city of Ocala and its surroundings, has not escaped these trends unscathed. Data from the Uniform Crime Report, a national crime reporting system, shows the murder rate was up 6.9% in 2019, and the total violent crime rate increased by 5.5%.
One flaw of the Uniform Crime Report is that not all law enforcement agencies are forced to report their records. Having said this, there is always a chance that a portion of crime in any area is underreported and these numbers may be higher than they appear.
Also in 2019, a report was released asserting Ocala was the city with the highest number of gun-related incidents per 10,000 people in Florida. The data showed a shocking 442.3% increase in the number of incidents between 2014 and 2018.
Though Ocala did represent the largest increase, it was not an outlier. This particular data set asserted that other cities had experienced increases in gun incidents of over 300%.
After this report was published, Ocala officials were quick to refute the claims. “Ocala and Marion County is a great place to live and work. It’s safe,” said Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn.
In a press release, officials stated the numbers in the report seem to have been weighed against a population of about 60,000 while the population of Marion County is actually about 360,000. The press release did admit to a 15.71% increase in violent offenses between 2018 and 2019, but steadfastly rebutted the reported increase of over 400%.
The 2020 report has not been released yet, but the numerous recent gun violence incidents in the area indicate the statistics may have continued on the upward trend.
In recent months, there have been multiple incidents in which teenagers in Marion County were involved in or were the victims of gun violence. Multiple teens have been killed in shootings at apartment complexes, and others have been injured in drive-by shootings or shootings in other areas.
There does not seem to be one concrete reason behind this increase in violence, though activists are quick to pin the blame on relaxed gun laws and social media. Romania Dukes, the founder of Mothers Fighting for Justice, points to the “back-and-forth beef, the retaliation” that teens and young adults are able to engage in on social media as a root cause.
Though this rise in violence began in 2019, it continued into 2020, and the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic. The combination of a surge in gun sales, homebound children being left unsupervised, an increase in domestic violence and financial stress has led to more accidents and crimes surrounding the use of guns. These are potential reasons for the recent increase.
In an attempt to combat the rise in gun violence, 13 bills related to gun restrictions were filed ahead of Florida’s 2022 legislative season. Ten of these bills are intended to increase gun restrictions, while three are intended to loosen them.
Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Lake County, has introduced several different bills aimed at loosening gun restrictions.
The bills introduced by Sabatini focus on expanding the rights of Floridians to obtain concealed carry licenses and restricting the rights of officials to seize firearms in certain circumstances.
“Whether there’s higher crime or lower crime, at the end of the day people need to be able to defend themselves. A law-abiding citizen who has never committed a felony should always have that right,” Sabatini told the Florida Political Review.
Sabatini stated he hopes his legislation will allow people to defend themselves in an emergency situation such as a shooting.
Other politicians believe the best way to lower the rate of gun violence in Florida is to further restrict the number of people allowed to carry firearms as well as the places they are allowed to take them.
“This is an irrational approach because it bears no relation to the amount of gun violence there is; gun violence is determined by someone who decides to commit a violent act, whether they use a firearm or something else isn’t going to stop them,” said Sabatini.
Regardless of which side of the argument ultimately wins, politicians have taken note of this problem and are trying to formulate a solution. With new legislation and more widespread awareness, legislators hope gun violence in Marion County and in Florida as a whole will be reduced.
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Featured Image: A protest at the March For Our Lives in 2018. Unmodified photo by Wikimedia Commons used under a Creative Commons license (https://bit.ly/3h03ssu).