GOP infighting highlights Florida struggle for Constitutional Carry

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Governor Ron DeSantis has signaled support. The head of the state Senate says he’d vote for the bill if it gets to the Senate floor. So why is Constitutional Carry struggling to get a hearing, much less a floor vote this year?

It depends on who you ask. According to Rep. Anthony Sabatini, the House sponsor of Constitutional Carry, the issue is with “RINO cowards” like Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls. Sabatini launched into a Twitter tirade against the House leader earlier this week blaming him for the lack of movement on the measure.

Sprowls didn’t reply, but Republican Rep. Chris Latvala chimed in and pointed his finger at Sabatini, calling him a “moron” and quizzing him on the lack of a Senate sponsor for the legislation. That’s when the fireworks really began.

Sabatini responded to Latvala by posting a picture of the Representative with civil rights leader Al Sharpton, further insulting Latvala in a caption. “Disgusting Anti-2A sweaty slob Chris Latvala — ‘The Mitt Romney of Florida’ — whose father resigned from the state Senate after sexually assaulting several lobbyists — is the biggest RINO in the Legislature and seeks counsel from Al Sharpton — he also helps block Constitutional Carry.”

That comment references Sen. Jack Latvala, who resigned his Senate seat in 2017amid arguments of sexual harassment.

Barbs continued as Rep. Latvala questioned the foundation of Sabatini’s current politics. “So when (you) voted in the Democratic Primary for President, did you vote for Hillary Clinton or [BarackObama Anthony Sabatini?” he tweeted, referencing Sabatini’s voting record from his years as a registered Democrat.

Soon, other lawmakers jumped to Latvala’s defense. “The ineffective ‘Rep’ who has to claim victories through co-sponsorship requests wants to trash genuinely good human beings to be relevant to his followers,” posted Rep. Kaylee Tuck, a Lake Placid Republican. “I guess Session gets boring when none of your bills move. Do we have office space available on the 23rd floor?”

Here’s the thing; while Sabatini’s attacks on his colleagues aren’t helpful, I also don’t think he’s the reason why Constitutional Carry has stalled this session. It looks to me like there are several politicians in the state who would prefer to talk about their support for the idea rather than actually working to see it become law. Take these comments made last month by Senate President Wilton Simpson, for example.

Senate President Wilton Simpson says he would support removing laws requiring a concealed-weapons permit to carry a gun if it comes to a vote.

Simpson’s made the comment to reporters Wednesday after conservatives at the Republican Liberty Caucus said they met with the Senate President. The group has been among a cohort of pro-gun rights organizations pushing for “constitutional carry.”

“If a constitutional carry bill gets to the Senate floor, and it’s heard on the Senate floor, I would vote yes. I would support that on the floor,” Simpson said.

However, the Trilby Republican told reporters he would not get involved in constitutional carry legislation until it gets to the Senate floor. That differed from comments one gun rights organization said Simpson made during the meeting.

“Simpson told the group he ‘would support, vote yes, and challenge senators to bring a constitutional carry bill,’” according to an email.

It’s been nearly a month since Simpson’s comments, and there’s been no Constitutional Carry bill introduced in the state Senate since then. We also haven’t heard anything from Gov. DeSantis since his general statement of support for Constitutional Carry back in December.

Compare that to Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp is in a bruising primary fight with former U.S. senator David Perdue, and has embraced Constitutional Carry in a bear hug this session. Kemp wants to deliver a big win to Republican primary voters, but there are different political calculations at work in Florida, where DeSantis isn’t facing a primary challenge and Simpson is actually running to become the state’s next Agriculture Commissioner (a position, by the way, that oversees the state’s concealed carry licensing system). Even Sabatini has his own political calculus to consider, given that he’s running for Congress and billing himself as the most conservative member of the Florida legislature.

If the Republican leadership in the state legislature were truly behind Constitutional Carry this year, they would have guaranteed a Senate bill, and we probably would have seen another House version introduced by someone who’s got a better working relationship with their colleagues than Sabatini does. Call it RINO cowardice or election year skittishness, but whatever the label, it seems to be the biggest barrier between Constitutional Carry remaining a bill and becoming a law in the Sunshine State.