Florida Democrats try to box in DeSantis on gun control

AP Photo/John Raoux

It’s been several months since we’ve seen any polling of the upcoming governor’s race in Florida, where incumbent Ron DeSantis will face either Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried or (more likely) former governor/former Republican/former congressman Charlie Crist, but by all indications DeSantis has a commanding lead in what’s expected to be a very good year for Republicans nationwide.

Florida Democrats are looking for anything they can try to use as a cudgel to cut into DeSantis’ popularity between now and November, and it looks like their next effort is going to be aimed at putting the governor and the Republican-controlled legislature on the hot seat over gun control.

Democratic lawmakers are pushing for further steps and have gained enough support among their own members to poll the entire Republican-led Legislature, calling for a special session to address gun violence.

The poll is unlikely to gain traction. But supporters see it as at least forcing Republican lawmakers to take a public stance on the issue ahead of the November election.

… Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller is leading the effort. He wrote a letter to Secretary of State Cord Byrd on Wednesday, requesting the special session. Without it, he warned, more gun violence is imminent.

“Something must be done to fight back against the deadly scourge of gun violence that touches every community from Pensacola to Key West,” Geller said. “It is imperative that we take common sense steps to address the epidemic of gun violence that has led to atrocities in places like Parkland, FL, Buffalo, NY, and most recently in Uvalde, Texas.”

The GOP-led legislature did impose new gun control laws after the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, including the establishment of a “red flag” firearms seizure law and a ban on all gun sales to adults under the age of 21. That’s not enough for Democrats (of course), who are hoping to use their calls for a special session to demand a broadening of the red flag law, a “universal background check” requirement criminalizing private person-to-person gun sales, and a ban on the sale of “large capacity” magazines.

“Each of these common-sense gun safety reforms will make our state more safe,” said Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who said that magazine capacity limits may prevent mass shooting like the Pulse Massacre in 2016. “We cannot sit back and do nothing while Floridians demand action.”

Lawmakers have until Friday to vote on the poll. A successful poll requires 60% support in both chambers, or the blessing of House and Senate leaders and DeSantis.

With Democrats needing to get 60% support from lawmakers, they’re going to have to have buy in from a fair number of Republicans in both chambers, and at the moment the votes don’t seem to be there. DeSantis has also been quiet on the topic, even during today’s signing ceremony for a bill focused on school safety approved by lawmakers back in March.

“Every child needs a safe and secure learning environment,” DeSantis said in a statement Tuesday.

The legislation orders the state Board of Education, whose members are appointed by DeSantis, to develop rules for school emergency drills, removing authority from school districts. It heightens response training and crisis intervention for school safety officers and authorizes these officers to make arrests on charter school grounds.

The measure also requires that law enforcement be present for active shooter drills at schools and requires school districts to certify that at least 80% of school personnel have received youth mental health awareness training.

The new law also extends until 2026, the Public Safety Commission that investigated failures leading to the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and continues to make school security recommendations. The 16-member panel was scheduled to disband next year.

If, as seems likely, Democrats don’t get their demand for a special session on gun control they’ll try to hammer Republicans between now and November with absurd claims about caring more about guns than kids, being in the pocket of the gun lobby, and every other dishonest argument they can think of. Of course they’d still do that even if Republicans did support a special session but voted down some or all of their gun control proposals. Either way, the Democratic argument is set, and they’re going all in on gun control, to the point that Crist is now claiming he’ll ban so-called assault weapons via executive order if he’s elected governor… something that goes beyond even Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke’s call for a legislative gun ban and compensated confiscation.

DeSantis remains one of the most popular governors in the country, and I doubt that Crist’s anti-gun extremism is going to energize anyone other than the Democratic base, but DeSantis and other Republicans should be prepared to not only respond to the coming attacks by their anti-gun opponents, but to call them out for their desperate promises of increased safety at the expense of our constitutionally-protected civil rights.