One phrase that most Republicans seldom utter, except in a negative way, is gun control. But for Democrats, especially those who are running for Florida governor, that phrase isn’t negative at all.
Orlando businessman and Democratic candidate for governor Chris King was in Tallahassee Monday on the eve of a critical House vote on a bill that could increase the age limit for gun purchases, provide additional funding for mental health and other issues in the wake of a mass shooting at a South Florida High School.
“This is going to be a very competitive primary in Florida’s history and the Democratic party,” he remarked during a meeting with reporters at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee.
“And I believe the nominee that comes out of this primary must be a champion for gun safety and for a ban on weapons of war.”
Meaning, firearms like the very popular AR-15, which has increasingly become a weapon of choice among many mass shooters, including the individual who murdered seventeen people in the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, also a Democrat running for governor, hasn’t been shy about advocating for an assault weapons ban either.
“We’ve got to deal with the artillery in and of itself, not just the mental health that has been the safe default,” he said. “Now you’ve got people out there – in my case we litigated for two years with the NRA – but who are unapologetic about saying that weapons of war don’t belong on city streets.”
King and Gillum have something else in common. Both accuse fellow Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and former North Florida congresswoman Gwen Graham, of being less than enthusiastic about gun control. Three years ago, following a mass shooting in San Bernardino, congress briefly considered an assault weapons ban.
"151 House Democrats co-sponsored that bill,” King recounted. “Another 24 joined after Pulse (nightclub shooting) occurred in my community. As far as I can tell, Congresswoman Graham when she was serving there, never added her name as a co-sponsor.”
Gillum’s critique of Graham was even more pointed.
“We even went back and looked at Gwen Graham’s record of when she ran for Congress saying that she’s a Second Amendment advocate. Not that any of us are not, but no law-abiding citizen should have their guns taken away. And what we say is in each of these mass shooting incidents, all of them were law-abiding citizens before they became murderers.”
Still, Graham had been quick to post a position statement on her campaign website following the Parkland school shooting in which she called on Governor Rick Scott to immediately suspend the sale of assault weapons until the legislature passed was she called “real gun safety legislation.” Graham’s web site went on to say that would include a ban on the guns and high capacity magazines, along with tougher background checks and forcing domestic abusers to surrender their firearms when a protective order is issued against them.
Her campaign issued a statement today just hours after King’s critique, calling it an “attack” that was in her words, “predictable but sad.” Meanwhile, at least one poll has Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine the Democratic gubernatorial front-runner, possibly because of extensive television ad buys in the state’s major media markets. Levine’s campaign web site claims his gun control proposals are tougher than his opponents, in part because he wants to strike down state law that prevents localities from adopting any gun measures stricter than what the state allows.
The upshot of all this? It seems the Democrats running for Florida governor have what they believe is a winning issue as they jockey for position in advance of the August primary election.