Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

We have 102 Republicans in office in Florida between the House and the Senate — a supermajority in both chambers. And yet we can count the pro-gun bills that have been introduced so far on a single hand. These lawmakers campaign on a pro-Second Amendment platform, but once they arrive in Tallahassee, they suffer from a convenient case of amnesia.

We need Governor Ron DeSantis (R) to use the power of his office to force votes on critical pro-gun reform legislation. This could make a huge difference to help us get pro-gun legislation passed.

I recall in 2018, Gov. DeSantis — then a candidate for office — attended the Republican Party of Florida’s Sunshine Summit, and he openly stated that if he were Governor at the time, he’d have vetoed SB 7026. SB 7026 was the post-Parkland gun control legislation that the Republican supermajority rammed through and former Governor (now Senator) Rick Scott signed into law.

The knee-jerk legislation made purchase of a firearm by anyone under 21 illegal. It pushed red flag laws to destroy the Second Amendment by crushing the Fourth Amendment and curb-stomping due process. It mandated a statewide waiting period for firearm purchases and instituted ban on firearm accessories that “increase the rate of fire” that’s so vaguely written, it can basically target anything including a 3.5-pound competition trigger connector for a GLOCK. 

As a Florida gun owner, I want to see Gov. DeSantis to use his office as a bully pulpit to support important pro-gun legislation. Just this week, Gov. DeSantis sent out an email stating that he’s not a “normal Republican.” That’s a good thing if true because the past decade has shown that many of Florida’s “normal Republicans” have been huge disappointments.

They’ve voted anti-gun and have squandered the supermajority they hold instead of using it to pass worthwhile legislation like constitutional carry. The Florida Republicans we have in the legislature have instead killed pro-gun legislation in committee year after year — and worse, they have helped pass anti-gun legislation.

So when Gov. DeSantis says he isn’t a “normal Republican,” I say “Thank goodness!” I’m tired and I know a lot of my fellow Floridians are tired of “normal Republicans” who are slicing and dicing our gun rights. We need a leader in Tallahassee who will whip them into shape (politically speaking, of course).

Unfortunately, the man who authored that post-Parkland gun control is currently sitting at the Senate President’s desk. Sen. Wilton Simpson (R) authored SB 7026 in the push to DO SOMETHING after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

He plays legislative dictator, deciding what bills go where, and putting pressure on lawmakers on what they will introduce.

The same is happening in the House. This past week, I spoke before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee to push for better gun laws in Florida. 

Afterward, I spoke personally with the subcommittee’s chair, Rep. Cord Byrd (R) and asked him about the status of the other pro-gun bills. I asked him because the subcommittee is where many pro-gun bills are currently parked.

Rep. Byrd told me that he might — might — put those bills on the committee’s agenda for a vote in March. But that’s only if he gets the blessing from Talahassee’s other legislative dictator, House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R). My sources in the Capitol tell me that Speaker Sprowls wants all of the pro-gun legislation to wither on the vine.  

It currently appears that HB 259, the Religious Institution Carry Bill, is the only bill that’s currently moving and its Senate companion bill is heading to a committee chaired by a freshman Democrat.

Who allowed a Democrat to chair the committee in a Senate dominated by Republicans? None other than Senate President Simpson. As the head of the Senate, he decides who chairs committees. Why then is a freshman Democrat Senator chairing a committee when there is a Republican supermajority in the legislature?

Simple…the Florida capitol is a legislative dictatorship.

The Religious Institution Carry bill represents only a very minor improvement in the current law. With Republican supermajorities in each chamber, Florida should be passing MULTIPLE pro-gun bills that greatly improve gun laws for all Floridians. Bills that advance causes like campus carry, open carry, and constitutional carry. Bills that make the Sunshine State a Second Amendment sanctuary state.

As Floridians, we should be excelling in defending our 2A rights, yet for the past decade we have been falling behind. Our state was once known as the “Gunshine State.” We were proud in being proactive in expanding the Second Amendment rights of Floridians.

The arguments that the gun-grabbers have made against expanded gun rights have been proven false. Forty-five states have open carry and 17 now have constitutional carry. These states also tend to have the lowest crime rates in the country.

It appears that currently, there is only one true constitutionally minded pro-gun Republican in the Florida Legislature and that’s Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R).

I know this because I’ve sat down with the man in person.

Luis Valdes, GOA FL State Director, meeting FL Rep. Sabatini for Constitutional Carry on Jan. 27, 2021.

But currently, Rep. Sabatini’s pro-gun bills — constitutional carry, campus carry, and the repeal of the ban of ammo/gun sales during declared states of emergency — are languishing in the House in the very subcommittee that Rep. Byrd chairs. Rep. Byrd won’t move forward without the blessing of Speaker Sprowls and Sprowls doesn’t appear to be interested. So we see Republicans either stonewalling pro-gun bills or outright backing gun control legislation.

The real problem? Some Republican lawmakers believe that gun owners’ votes can be taken for granted. It’s the old game of the lesser of two evils. They assume gun owners won’t vote for anti-gun Democrats, so they can be ignored or abused.  

You can see this in the party’s leadership. Sen. Joe Gruters is currently the chair of the Republican Party of Florida and he voted in favor of the Parkland bill. You’d think that the head of the RPOF would be pro-gun and would have a voting record that is pro-gun. You’d think that the RPOF would be pressuring its members in the House and Senate to introduce pro-gun legislation since that’s what they actually campaign on. But you’d be wrong. 

That’s not what I’m seeing this legislative session, however, and it it’s not what I haven’t seen over the past decade.

Here is the voting record from 2018 on SB 7026, the post-Parkland gun control bill.

All three members of Republican leadership voted to restrict Floridians’ gun rights. And that’s what needs to change. 

These legislators need to hear from Florida’s gun owners. And if they won’t advance pro-gun legislation, they need to know they will be primaried.

Gov. DeSantis says he isn’t a “normal Republican” and that he will “never back down from a fight.” Great! He still needs to be reminded that he campaigned that he would defend our Second Amendment rights. He needs to be urged to use his office as a bully pulpit to pressure Republican lawmakers in the legislature to pass meaningful pro-gun legislation that will benefit all Floridians.

 

Luis Valdes is the Florida Director for Gun Owners of America. 

 



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