Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a pretty good record when it comes to Second Amendment issues, but he does have some critics among gun rights supporters. In the current debate over permitless carry legislation, for instance groups like Gun Owners of America and some current gun owners in the state have accused DeSantis and other Republicans of pulling a “bait and switch” on gun owners by leaving the state’s ban on openly carried firearms untouched while allowing concealed carry without a license.
Now DeSantis has another issue to contend with. The Washington Post (no fan of either DeSantis or the Second Amendment, it should be noted) says its obtained emails showing that the DeSantis campaign wanted his election night celebration at the Tampa Convention Center to be a “gun-free zone”… but didn’t want the decision to come from them.
“DeSantis/his campaign will not tell their attendees they are not permitted to carry because of the political optics,” Chase Finch, the convention center’s safety and security manager, said in an Oct. 28 email to other city officials about the request, which was conveyed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a state police agency led by a DeSantis appointee.
Finch further explained that because of “Republicans largely being in support of 2A,” referring to the Second Amendment, “Basically it sounds like they want us to say it’s our policy to disallow firearms within the event space if anyone asks.”
Tampa Convention Center officials ultimately rejected the request from the DeSantis campaign to ban weapons. State law allows concealed firearms to be brought inside the public facility unless the renter insists on a gun-free event. On election night, the campaign did require guests to pass through metal detectors, Finch said.
As the Post notes, this isn’t the only “gun-free” event that DeSantis has been involved with. A fundraiser for the governor held back in October also required attendees to pass through a metal detector before entering the soiree. Team DeSantis has issued a couple of statements in response to the Post; neither of them denying the veracity of the emails.
In response to questions from The Post about gun bans at DeSantis events, the governor’s deputy press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, said in an email, “We do not comment on speculation and hearsay. The Governor is strongly in support of individuals’ constitutional right to bear arms.”
Lindsey Curnutte, a spokeswoman for the governor’s political team, said, “We follow the guidance of the FDLE and local law enforcement to keep the governor and his family safe during events.”
The FDLE, which reports to the governor and three other statewide elected officials, values “the rights of our citizens to legally bear arms,” said agency spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger, and makes decisions based on “security threats.” She added in an email: “FDLE encourages private and public venues to limit weapons when hosting the Governor and First Family at large events. Doing so enhances the ability of law enforcement officers and FDLE Protective Operations agents to work proficiently and quickly in the event of an emergency.”
It’s important to note that the request to prohibit firearms from the Tampa Convention Center came from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and not directly from the DeSantis campaign itself, but there’s no indication that the governor ever objected.
So how much of an issue will this be for DeSantis going forward? Depends on who you ask.
As DeSantis considers a 2024 presidential bid, potential GOP opponents who have put gun rights at the center of their agendas, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, could seek to capitalize on the issue, said Luis Valdes, Florida state director of Gun Owners of America. Former president Donald Trump, who is running for another term, was credited by the NRA’s political arm in 2020 with doing “more than any president to protect the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
“DeSantis continually pays lip service to the Second Amendment as he positions himself for a nationwide run, and yet what I am seeing as a constituent of his and as a Floridian is that his events are gun-free zones,” Valdes said. “His primary rivals will clean his clock on guns.”
Maybe, though other candidates may have their own experiences with “gun-free zones” as well, including Donald Trump, who was dinged in 2016 for bashing policies that bar concealed carry holders, but it turned out that several Trump-owned properties had their own prohibitions in place.
Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s posh Florida club, doesn’t allow guns, a hotel staff member told ABC News.
Trump National Doral, in Miami, Florida, doesn’t allow guns either, a security official told ABC News. The resort would “much rather not” have guns on the property, said a security official with the hotel, who noted that guns are “not to be carried on our property.”
“We’ve had guests that have brought them before,” he said, but those guns “had to remain in their safe the whole time in the room.”
A security worker at Trump National in Jupiter, Florida, said “no” when asked if guns were allowed on premises by citizens who are licensed to carry them. Asked about exceptions for people like off-duty cops, the staff member directed ABC News to a supervisor, who said the hotel had no comment at all on guns at the property.
Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach County, Florida, also doesn’t allow citizens with concealed-carry licenses to bring their guns on the property, a golf-shop worker told ABC News.
In almost 20 years of covering the Second Amendment, I have to say that while issues like these may resonate with staunch 2A activists, they rarely draw the ire of conservatives at large, much less the general public. Conservative Political Action Conference events, for instance, have taken place in “gun-free zones” over the years, including at the Omni Shoreham in Washington, D.C. back when the District still prohibited all carrying of firearms, as well as the Hyatt Regency in Orlando; home to CPAC’s 2021 conference. I did check with the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center today and was informed that guests who possess a valid concealed carry license in Maryland can carry on the resort property, which is good to know, at least for those Maryland residents who may be attending CPAC 2023 in a few weeks (though I’d check with CPAC to see if they have any event-specific policies as well).
As far as DeSantis goes, I don’t think the WaPo’s uncovering of these emails is going to sink his chances in 2024, but he may have some work to do with Second Amendment activists. Of course, the same can be said of the other main contender for the nomination at the moment; who not only has his own issues with “gun-free zones” but an administrative ban on bump stocks as a permanent blot on his record.
I’ve been voting in presidential elections for 30 years and I’ve yet to run across the perfect candidate, so I’m not expecting to finally have one next year. Frankly, even the squishiest of RINOs would be better than Joe Biden or anyone else the Democrats put up in his stead, but the candidate who’ll get my vote will be one who best convinces me that they truly understand and respect the fundamental importance of our right to keep and bear arms and aren’t just paying lip service to the Second Amendment.